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Portaball Users - Sing Their Praises

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#1 Not Here Anymore

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Posted 20 May 2017 - 10:44 PM

Realizing there probably aren't that many Portaball's relative to other dobs, I'd loved to hear from those who own them.

 

What do you like?

 

What don't you like?

 

Discuss some of the features they have to offer.

 

Thank you in advance,

john


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#2 gwlee

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Posted 20 May 2017 - 11:11 PM

I had an 8"f6 for a year or two. Nice optics, but mount was shaky, proprietary focuser was poorly designed and fabricated, and balance limited choice of EP and finders. It wasn't well suited to my observing style, and I was glad to see it go to a new home. 


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#3 bobito

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Posted 20 May 2017 - 11:43 PM

No first hand experience, but a coworker has a 3" (I think) and he doesn't like it.  Said it is impossible to find things and tricky to move to keep up with sidereal when he did.  I gave him a cheap 8-24 zoom EP I wasn't using and he said that helped a bit because he was never able to keep the object in view when switching between the 2 supplied EPs.

 

My bad. Based on comments below, and how my cowrker described it, it probubly was an Astroscan.


Edited by bobito, 21 May 2017 - 03:19 PM.


#4 Not Here Anymore

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 06:08 AM

No first hand experience, but a coworker has a 3" (I think) and he doesn't like it.  Said it is impossible to find things and tricky to move to keep up with sidereal when he did.  I gave him a cheap 8-24 zoom EP I wasn't using and he said that helped a bit because he was never able to keep the object in view when switching between the 2 supplied EPs.

I don't think they made a 3".  It's a reflector.  8 was the smallest I believe.



#5 Pierre Lemay

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 08:10 AM

Portaballs have always enjoyed an excellent reputation. Let's make one distinction here: Portaball is the commercial name for the late Peter Smitka's commercial offer of ball scopes. The company, Mag1 Instruments, continues to build Portaball telescopes under new ownership. They always had a good reputation because they are extremely well made and have always been equipped with optics from Carl Zambutto. 

 

There have been other commercial ball scopes, the most famous of which was Edmunds' fire engine red Astroscan, which, I believe, is what you were referring to when talking abut a small 3 inch ball scope (the Astroscan is actually a 4 inch).

 

Those who know me know that I'm a big fan of ball scopes and see many advantages, and few inconveniences, as compared to either of their dobsonians or equatorial counterparts.

 

My 20 inch ball scope is an extreme example of what is possible with this design. Here is a photo of it at Stellafane back in 2013 when an early version of the telescope was awarded the first prize for design and second prize for workmanship:

 

IMG_0013.JPEG

 

Over the years I solved, one by one, most of the remaining inconveniences that were associated with ball scopes ever since Bert Willard first introduced them to us in the '60's in a S&T article (a small bowling ball mounted scope).

 

I invented the drive platform that naturally and economically (it can be built for $30) allows the instrument to track (see the January 1996 issue of Sky and Telescope). Unlike the Poncet type platforms which must be made for one specific latitude, the ball scope equatorial drive platform is as easy to adapt to almost all latitudes as any equatorial mount would and never needs to be reset: it will allow the ball scope to track all night without any interruption. Jerry Oltion "re-discovered" the equatorial platform design for ball scopes in the mid-2000's and published a number of articles in S&T on them. Just to sweeten the deal, I also gave the platform a dual axis (a virtual declination axis) by cleverly taking advantage of the tube bottom's hemispherical shape, allowing any ball scope to be used for long exposure astrophotography when objects are near the meridian (like for any dual axis equatorial platform declination drive correction is only possible near the meridian).

 

For the balance issue you mention when changing eyepieces, I added to my 20 inch a very practical two eyepiece turret so the tube is always balanced when changing eyepieces. Many dobsonians could benefit from this feature if it was available commercially.

 

Of course, the fact that it is a ball scope makes the instrument more ergonomic than dobsonians by allowing the eyepiece to be rotated in place to the most convenient position, including upside down. How many times have I shown smaller people (adults and children) objects in my 20 inch with their two feet on the ground, that they could only otherwise of observed from a ladder. I could do this by rotating the tube around its optical axis, to bring the eyepiece to their eye position. Very practical.

 

Without counting it's tracking platform, my 20 inch OTA only weighs 85 pounds, fully loaded (eyepieces, finderscopes, heater system including on board battery - the works!). And it can operate that way. All I need to do is dig a shallow hole in the ground and rest the hemisphere's bottom in it. There are very few 20 inch telescopes that are as light as this. But I don't operate it that way because I have the 50 pound platform which also acts as an equatorial drive platform and doubles up as a transportation dolly with integrated and retractable "wheelbarrow handles".

 

The only problem I was not able to solve with ball scopes was how to attach a coordinate location system for those who wish to locate objects using setting circles. But this last hurdle is now being worked on by several folks in the ATM community (see here and here for examples). Thanks to the work of these talented folks, I am convinced that before the year is over, my 20 inch will also integrate a Push To feature with digital setting circles, as well as equipped for tracking.

 

So imagine a ball scope which is Push To, tracks, can be used for Astrophotography, has a fully rotating eyepiece position, is lightweight and always perfectly balanced, compact, etc. And in the case of my 20 inch: f/3.9 wide field with 20% diagonal obstruction and flat footed (no ladders). What is there not to like?

 

For more information on my 20 inch, feel free to consult this thread. You can also find information on my website in my signature block. 

 

I've also designed a simple shelter for the 20 inch which you can read about here.

 

Finally, I started a thread on how to make an 8 inch ball scope here. Unfortunately I had to interrupt the thread all winter due to an unusually busy professional workload but I am committed to finishing the second version of this scope and present it at Stellafane 2017 (the first version was demonstrated at Stellafane 2016 but I was unsatisfied so I am making improvements to it). Feel free to attend Stellafane this year if you are interested in seing and learning more about the 8 inch ball scope project.

 

Hope I've praised them enough!

 

20-inch-in-front-of-opened-shelter.jpg


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#6 niallk

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 08:29 AM

Hi Pierre, beautiful craftsmanship and scope!
Regarding DSCs for ball type scopes, it seems to me that the technology employed in roller ball, or better still in an optical computer mouse could lend itself to a good solution??
Best regards, Niall

#7 Pierre Lemay

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 08:49 AM

Hi Pierre, beautiful craftsmanship and scope!
Regarding DSCs for ball type scopes, it seems to me that the technology employed in roller ball, or better still in an optical computer mouse could lend itself to a good solution??
Best regards, Niall

No, it has been demonstrated many times over that those technologies don't work on a ball scope. The main problem is that due to the third degree of freedom that allows the tube to rotate around it's optical axis, it's very difficult for sensors to know if the tube is moving in altitude or azimuth or just rotating around it's optical axis, or a combination of all of those.

 

It is actually possible to use two stepping motors to position a ball scope in a GOTO approach. This was demonstrated by the late Belgian telescope maker Alphonse Pouplier with his Astroscan. However when you do that, the eyepiece may end up in a very unergonomic position and you can't rotate it in position without disrupting the positional memory of the system.

 

Believe me if it were easy to do, I would have found a way. It took smart people who have knowledge in modern sensors to find a way. It is with excitement that I see the fruits of their labor now coming to fruition.



#8 SkyRanger

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 08:54 AM

Pierre, I am impressed with what you have done!!

 

I am the happy owner of two PBs, which I have owned for many years.

 

Some years back, I had a wonderful 14.5" Starmaster--the basic scope with no goto. Later I added an EQ platform to get the tracking I wanted.  However, after a back injury I decided to downsize to a 12.5".  Among other issues, loading it into the back of my Jeep Liberty became more than I wanted to handle. After considerable research, and deciding I might like f5 better than f4.3, I went with the 12.5" PB; and I have never regretted that decision. In fact, I liked the 12.5 so much that I added a 8" f6 a few years later.  I was fortunate to find both scopes used, the 12.5"  in Phoenix and the little guy in Albuquerque.

 

Major plusses for me: It holds collimation extremely well, even over a long night.  It is SO comfortable to use.  Until you have experienced the luxury of twisting the ball to put the EP in the most comfortable position, you don't know what you have been missing.  It breaks down into small pieces, which can be transported in small vehicles.  My 8-6 often leans over in the back seat of my car for short trips to close observing sites. I recently added the PB cart with "donut hole" to move the 12.5" around the yard.  

 

Some minuses: The original electrical system was weak and will eventually need re-doing.  My 12.5" went back to PB World Headquarters over a year ago and had a new electrical system added which included a rear fan and boundary layer fan.  The 8-6 has a helical focuser which limited it to 1.25" EP. It is not FT, for sure, but I always managed fine with it.  For super wide fields, I use a small refractor.  Newer 8" are f5.5 and come with a lightweight FT focuser. The big issue for many I am sure is no way to add goto to the system. (My scopes share the same EQ platform for tracking.  I have a smaller "potty seat" that coverts the hole in the EQ platform from 12.5 to 8".)  

 

Pierre, please keep us informed on push-to digital circles!  I will want some, for sure.

The 8-6 is my old man scope. I am in my mid 60s and foresee the day when the 12.5" will be too much for me. I think I will be able to use the 8-6 as long as I am mobile. I can pick it up with one hand to move it around the yard and easily load it into the Prius, fully assembled. The 8-6 is at World Headquarters now getting a new Zambuto quartz mirror and having the electrical system rebuilt. At this point I am undecided whether to keep the little helical focuser or go with the lightweight FT focuser. Part of that decision is based on the cost of the FT upgrade.

 

I have had good relations with Peter S and with Dave Jukem, the current owner.  Dave does operate a very busy machine shop in addition to building PBs, so he can be slow to respond to emails. I have always been able to reach him by phone, and he has always been friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable, as well as ready to listen to my thoughts.
 

For the last 5 years of my working life, I worked for the National Park Service and had the privilege of spending almost 5 years at Natural Bridges NM in SE Utah. (That's where I got the Sky Ranger designation.)  I got a grant from Canyonlands Natural History Association (the non-prophet bookstore) and was able to buy for the park a 16.5" Starmaster FX. I loved the scope, as did many thousands of visitors who got to use the scope under pristine skies.  I was the principle operator of the scope for 3+ years. What a lucky guy I am!!  Some nights I yearn for a 16.5" of my own, but age and back issues tell me that 12.5 is a more reasonable aperture for me. If you are younger or have an observatory somewhere, you might want to go for a bigger scope.

For me, I am very happy to have two PBs with excellent Zambuto optics.  Thanks Peter, Dave, and Carl!!

 

DSC_1004_2_zpsalotsrka.jpg

At Canyonlands NP.

DSC_0220_zpstd87yxwh.jpg

]Wish I still had the little Tak!

 

Gordon G


Edited by SkyRanger, 21 May 2017 - 09:31 AM.

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#9 gwlee

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 12:18 PM

 

 

Some minuses: The original electrical system was weak and will eventually need re-doing.  My 12.5" went back to PB World Headquarters over a year ago and had a new electrical system added which included a rear fan and boundary layer fan.  The 8-6 has a helical focuser which limited it to 1.25" EP. It is not FT, for sure, but I always managed fine with it.  For super wide fields, I use a small refractor.  Newer 8" are f5.5 and come with a lightweight FT focuser. The big issue for many I am sure is no way to add goto to the system. (My scopes share the same EQ platform for tracking.  I have a smaller "potty seat" that coverts the hole in the EQ platform from 12.5 to 8".)

 

DSC_1004_2_zpsalotsrka.jpg

At Canyonlands NP.

 

 

Gordon G

I would like to see the 8" f5.5 with a feather touch. Hopefully, the shorter focal length cures the shakes that plagued my 8"f6, and feather touch focusers are well known for high quality. 

 

The propriety helical focuser on mine was roughly  machined, so rough operating, adding to the shakes. The hole for "1.25 inch" EPs was macined over size and not round, so EPS were loose. Although the telescope was ordered to work with three specific TV  EPs, it didn't work well with them because the focuser's set screw contacted the shoulder of the EP's relief cut rather than the bottom of the cut, so tightening the setscrew cocked (misaligned) the EP without securing it. Using the TS required jury rigging EPs with O-rings and such, not what one expects from $2,500 TS or a even a $250 TS. 

 

Despite these problems, i think the ball scope configuration has a lot of promise that wasn't realized on the 8"f6 that I owned. 


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#10 areyoukiddingme

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 12:56 PM

I've had a 12.5" F5 for a couple of years. It's a 2003 model and has required some work.

 

It's my most used and favorite scope. I live in a condo and need to travel to view. The portaball with minimal pack up can be rolled to my car in one trip and placed on the front seat of my car (on top of a inner tube). The set up takes no more than 5 minutes (that's full assembly and collimation). And as has been said, the ability to spin the eyepiece to the most comfortable position becomes second nature. So much so that when I occasionally use my 16" Lightbridge, I find myself trying to rotate the eyepiece.

 

The optics are obviously unimpeachable. But I do find that cool down takes real time. I typically blast the primary with a portable 12 volt fan for a half hour before beginning to view. 

 

Being a 2003, mine has needed a few odds and sods. Some good, some not so good.

 

The main work was the primary--sent back to Zambuto for a recoat. It came out beautifully, of course. Unfortunately, the secondary proved to have some roughness, so that was replaced. It took me two tries to get that done as I had all kinds of frustration fitting the new secondary to the holder.

 

I also decided to upgrade to a modern aluminium cell while I was at it. The original wooden one worked very well indeed, but I figured it couldn't hurt to get the upgrade. I was wrong. The new cell probably works great with the new lighter weight 12.5" mirrors. For my 1.625", there's noticeable collimation shift. The new cell also sits a good bit lower in the sphere, so I needed to drill new holes in my poles to get focus. New holes about a 1/2" below the originals worked great, and all my eyepieces easily reach focus.

 

Given the collimation shift, I'm going to have to either return to the original cell, or add side L-brackets like the original to get it to be stable. A pain of a job given that the mirror will need to be un-glued first.

 

 

I also got one of the new all-aluminum tripods. It has more stiction than the original, but the aluminum vibrates and makes it a pain to use at high power. I may try to fit some wooden legs. 

 

And if you are thinking of getting the new fancy looking cart, don't do it unless he's figured out how to engineer a working handle. The thing falls over given the weight of the handle. Quite a pain. The receptacle for the handle places the handle at a low angle and even makes it difficult to use. Poor design. 

 

Oh, and nearly forgot, the fan on the new cell is very, very quiet (which is fine), but it does not seem to move an awful lot of air. Again, probably better to stick with the original.

 

The electrics are the other issue as has been noted on the early models. I never use the dew heater on the secondary, so I have removed that. While I was at it, I also got rid of the powered connection for the Rigel finder. I found it was hit or miss. I changed to a regular battery powered finder and keep an extra watch battery in my case.

 

So for me, it's a hugely ergonomic scope with a lot of foibles, and those are not necessarily improved by "upgrading" to the latest components. Just 2 cents for anyone who might be thinking of doing similar things.


Edited by areyoukiddingme, 21 May 2017 - 12:58 PM.

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#11 Not Here Anymore

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 05:14 PM

Pierre, I am impressed with what you have done!!

 

I am the happy owner of two PBs, which I have owned for many years.

 

Some years back, I had a wonderful 14.5" Starmaster--the basic scope with no goto. Later I added an EQ platform to get the tracking I wanted.  However, after a back injury I decided to downsize to a 12.5".  Among other issues, loading it into the back of my Jeep Liberty became more than I wanted to handle. After considerable research, and deciding I might like f5 better than f4.3, I went with the 12.5" PB; and I have never regretted that decision. In fact, I liked the 12.5 so much that I added a 8" f6 a few years later.  I was fortunate to find both scopes used, the 12.5"  in Phoenix and the little guy in Albuquerque.

 

Major plusses for me: It holds collimation extremely well, even over a long night.  It is SO comfortable to use.  Until you have experienced the luxury of twisting the ball to put the EP in the most comfortable position, you don't know what you have been missing.  It breaks down into small pieces, which can be transported in small vehicles.  My 8-6 often leans over in the back seat of my car for short trips to close observing sites. I recently added the PB cart with "donut hole" to move the 12.5" around the yard.  

 

Some minuses: The original electrical system was weak and will eventually need re-doing.  My 12.5" went back to PB World Headquarters over a year ago and had a new electrical system added which included a rear fan and boundary layer fan.  The 8-6 has a helical focuser which limited it to 1.25" EP. It is not FT, for sure, but I always managed fine with it.  For super wide fields, I use a small refractor.  Newer 8" are f5.5 and come with a lightweight FT focuser. The big issue for many I am sure is no way to add goto to the system. (My scopes share the same EQ platform for tracking.  I have a smaller "potty seat" that coverts the hole in the EQ platform from 12.5 to 8".)  

 

Pierre, please keep us informed on push-to digital circles!  I will want some, for sure.

The 8-6 is my old man scope. I am in my mid 60s and foresee the day when the 12.5" will be too much for me. I think I will be able to use the 8-6 as long as I am mobile. I can pick it up with one hand to move it around the yard and easily load it into the Prius, fully assembled. The 8-6 is at World Headquarters now getting a new Zambuto quartz mirror and having the electrical system rebuilt. At this point I am undecided whether to keep the little helical focuser or go with the lightweight FT focuser. Part of that decision is based on the cost of the FT upgrade.

 

I have had good relations with Peter S and with Dave Jukem, the current owner.  Dave does operate a very busy machine shop in addition to building PBs, so he can be slow to respond to emails. I have always been able to reach him by phone, and he has always been friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable, as well as ready to listen to my thoughts.
 

For the last 5 years of my working life, I worked for the National Park Service and had the privilege of spending almost 5 years at Natural Bridges NM in SE Utah. (That's where I got the Sky Ranger designation.)  I got a grant from Canyonlands Natural History Association (the non-prophet bookstore) and was able to buy for the park a 16.5" Starmaster FX. I loved the scope, as did many thousands of visitors who got to use the scope under pristine skies.  I was the principle operator of the scope for 3+ years. What a lucky guy I am!!  Some nights I yearn for a 16.5" of my own, but age and back issues tell me that 12.5 is a more reasonable aperture for me. If you are younger or have an observatory somewhere, you might want to go for a bigger scope.

For me, I am very happy to have two PBs with excellent Zambuto optics.  Thanks Peter, Dave, and Carl!!

 

DSC_1004_2_zpsalotsrka.jpg

At Canyonlands NP.

DSC_0220_zpstd87yxwh.jpg

]Wish I still had the little Tak!

 

Gordon G

I had a little Tak just like that.  Same color too.  Great story.  Nice Portaball.



#12 Don W

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 09:50 PM

I'm one of the many amateur telescope makers that went to Astrofest in Kankakee, Illinois yearly starting in the early 80s. Met so many wonderful fellow ATMs there, Ron Ravneberg, Dave Kriege, Pete Smitka and Dave Juckem. Dave and I are in the same club, NEWSTAR (North East Wis. Stargazers). We also host a big star party in Wisconsin called WOW (Wisconsin Observer's Weekend). Dave and Pete were frequent attendees there as well. So I've been privileged to be associated with quite a few innovators in the hobby.

 

Back in the late 80s at Astrofest, a fellow from Michigan (I think) brought a 10" or so ball scope that was built around a spun aluminum ball. It really got Pete Smitka's mind spinning. The next year he brought his first Portaball. The rest is history. He was quite a character. Very smart and loved to joke around. I was very saddened by his passing. Thankfully, he sold Mag1 to Dave Juckem before he died. Dave had been making the ball and upper tube assembly and other fiberglass parts for Pete. As an aside, Dave himself had built several novel telescope designs that won awards at Astrofest. His specialty was and is fiberglass components. He's used that technology making parts for homebuilt airplanes and a novel clamshell observatory for his personal scopes.


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#13 peleuba

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Posted 22 May 2017 - 01:58 PM

 

 

 

I would like to see the 8" f5.5 with a feather touch. Hopefully, the shorter focal length cures the shakes that plagued my 8"f6, and feather touch focusers are well known for high quality. 

 

Here is the 8" F/5.5

Attached Thumbnails

  • Mason Dixon 2011 - Summer 038 (Large).JPG

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#14 John Harrington

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Posted 22 May 2017 - 11:07 PM

I love my old 10" F/5 Portaball.  Very stable collimation, great optics and extremely ergonomic design.  The ability to rotate the sphere to bring the eyepiece to a comfortable position is a huge asset.  I put mine on an Equatorial Tables (ET) platform and it happily tracks for 45-50 minutes.  The best combination of aperture, quality and transportability that I've ever found for visual astronomy (and even planetary imaging)!  

 

The only real downsides:  (i) yes, like Gordon above, I had to get David Juckem to replace the electrical system two summers ago, but he did a great job at a reasonable price; and (ii) there are no setting circles or go-to functionality--but that's a reasonable tradeoff considering the Portaball's many virtues.

 

Cheers,

 

John


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#15 peleuba

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 09:57 AM

The Portaball is my all time favorite telescope.  I love my refractors and the larger dobsonians that I have owned, but if I could have only one telescope the Portaball-8 would be it.  I am a friend of the firm so-to-speak and have traveled with Dave Jukem to NEAF for several years displaying and evangelizing the benefits of a high quality sphere/ball telescope.  I have owned every iteration of the 8" version of the telescope.

 

As Pierre stated above, MAG1 Instruments is now wholly owned by David Jukem in Wisconsin, sadly, Pete Smitka passed a few years back.  Dave has been involved in the Portaball manufacture almost from the begining. While Peter was the face of the organization, Dave was the machinist making all of the parts including the fiberglass sphere and the homegrown focuser.  As was alluded to previously, the focuser along with the electrical/wiring system was the weak link.  The focuser needed to be lightweight, was helical, and was not bad for what it was.  However, it  had a square bottom and was mounted on a round surface.  This became problematic when trying to get the focuser to point directly at the secondary mirror.  Later models included 4 screws to collimate the focuser, but at the end of the day, this was only a band aid when a tourniquet was needed.       

Fast-forward to NEAF 2010.  I was manning the PB booth alone as Dave had cancelled because of a death in his family.  While there, I approached Wayne Schroeder at Starlight Instruments and asked if they would be willing to shave additional weight off of the new LW FeatherTouch focuser.  After NEAF, subsequent conversations "machinist to machinist" between Dave and Jon Joseph (StarLight Instruments) occurred and a new LW FT Focuser was born - one that would be able to ride on a Portaball.  There is a story on this very subject in Astronomy Technology Today from a few years back...

 

Regarding the electric package...  In the Peter Smitka era no two Portaballs were wired exactly the same - trust me - I owned an 8" and a 12.5" during this time; both had electrical issues neither was wired correctly, nor in the same manner.  A few years ago, Dave redesigned the entire wiring package.  it now includes an onboard battery supporting switchable power to the Rigel, dew heaters for the secondary and Rigel finder, a cooling fan and a boundary layer fan.

 

About the only downside to the PB design is that its difficult (impossible?) to have DSC's work.  In the  8" size, I do not experience any of the shakiness in the F/6 or the current F/5.5 reported in an earlier post.  A friend has a limited edition F/5 version and its works well, too.  I do use mine exclusively on an equatorial tracking platform so I am not hand tracking anything for extended periods of time.  I also keep the sphere waxed with a high quality marine-grade fiberglass wax.

 

A couple of additional pictures...

Attached Thumbnails

  • NEAF 2011 065.JPG
  • PB.jpg

Edited by peleuba, 23 May 2017 - 10:09 AM.

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#16 gwlee

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 11:15 AM

The Portaball is my all time favorite telescope.  I love my refractors and the larger dobsonians that I have owned, but if I could have only one telescope the Portaball-8 would be it.  I am a friend of the firm so-to-speak and have traveled with Dave Jukem to NEAF for several years displaying and evangelizing the benefits of a high quality sphere/ball telescope.  I have owned every iteration of the 8" version of the telescope.

 

As Pierre stated above, MAG1 Instruments is now wholly owned by David Jukem in Wisconsin, sadly, Pete Smitka passed a few years back.  Dave has been involved in the Portaball manufacture almost from the begining. While Peter was the face of the organization, Dave was the machinist making all of the parts including the fiberglass sphere and the homegrown focuser.  As was alluded to previously, the focuser along with the electrical/wiring system was the weak link.  The focuser needed to be lightweight, was helical, and was not bad for what it was.  However, it  had a square bottom and was mounted on a round surface.  This became problematic when trying to get the focuser to point directly at the secondary mirror.  Later models included 4 screws to collimate the focuser, but at the end of the day, this was only a band aid when a tourniquet was needed.       

Fast-forward to NEAF 2010.  I was manning the PB booth alone as Dave had cancelled because of a death in his family.  While there, I approached Wayne Schroeder at Starlight Instruments and asked if they would be willing to shave additional weight off of the new LW FeatherTouch focuser.  After NEAF, subsequent conversations "machinist to machinist" between Dave and Jon Joseph (StarLight Instruments) occurred and a new LW FT Focuser was born - one that would be able to ride on a Portaball.  There is a story on this very subject in Astronomy Technology Today from a few years back...

 

Regarding the electric package...  In the Peter Smitka era no two Portaballs were wired exactly the same - trust me - I owned an 8" and a 12.5" during this time; both had electrical issues neither was wired correctly, nor in the same manner.  A few years ago, Dave redesigned the entire wiring package.  it now includes an onboard battery supporting switchable power to the Rigel, dew heaters for the secondary and Rigel finder, a cooling fan and a boundary layer fan.

 

About the only downside to the PB design is that its difficult (impossible?) to have DSC's work.  In the  8" size, I do not experience any of the shakiness in the F/6 or the current F/5.5 reported in an earlier post.  A friend has a limited edition F/5 version and its works well, too.  I do use mine exclusively on an equatorial tracking platform so I am not hand tracking anything for extended periods of time.  I also keep the sphere waxed with a high quality marine-grade fiberglass wax.

 

A couple of additional pictures...

Thanks for the info about the newest interation of the 8" PB. I am the former 8"f6 owner who commented on it's shakiness and the focuser's problems. Despite these problems, i always thought the 8" ball configuration had a lot of promise if the bugs were worked out, but these problems were show stoppers for me. 

 

I ordered the full electrical package, which appeared makeshift, but I didn't use it much in California and never had any problems with it. Having an electronics background, i wasn't too concerned because i could fix anything that went wrong with it. The lack of DSCs and tracking wasn't a problem for me either, but being limited to a Rigel Quick in a heavily light poluted metro area was limiting. I don't use two-inch eyepieces, so being limited to light, 1.25" eyepieces wasn't a big drawback for me, and worthwhile tradeoff for increased portability. 

 

I was encouraged when the new owner took over, so i tried to contact him several times to learn about the changes he was making and how they might correct the problems I encountered with the 8"f6. However, i never got answers to the most basic questions like price and delivery, much less information about his design changes. After several attempts, the  most i got from him was one email that included a partial response to one question, so i wrote off Mag1 because i got the impression that it was a hobby business with a website rather than a going concern. 



#17 peleuba

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 11:47 AM

 

Thanks for the info about the newest interation of the 8" PB. 

 

Glad to do it.

 

I have a who has both a new 8" and a new 12.5".  The 12.5" does not move as smoothly at first, but once its going its a dream - IF the sphere has been waxed with a Teflon or some marine fiberglass wax.

 

"Makeshift" is a good way to describe the electrical package on the older, Smitka era PB.  Peter was a friend of mine and he knew of my dissatisfaction and frustration with the wiring.

 

The best way in which to reach Dave is by phone.  He is the principle in a machine shop dedicated to aerospace, experimental aircraft and medical equipment.  He is a busy guy, but is extremely friendly.  He is also an amateur astronomer.



#18 Not Here Anymore

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 01:17 PM

 

The Portaball is my all time favorite telescope.  I love my refractors and the larger dobsonians that I have owned, but if I could have only one telescope the Portaball-8 would be it.  I am a friend of the firm so-to-speak and have traveled with Dave Jukem to NEAF for several years displaying and evangelizing the benefits of a high quality sphere/ball telescope.  I have owned every iteration of the 8" version of the telescope.

 

As Pierre stated above, MAG1 Instruments is now wholly owned by David Jukem in Wisconsin, sadly, Pete Smitka passed a few years back.  Dave has been involved in the Portaball manufacture almost from the begining. While Peter was the face of the organization, Dave was the machinist making all of the parts including the fiberglass sphere and the homegrown focuser.  As was alluded to previously, the focuser along with the electrical/wiring system was the weak link.  The focuser needed to be lightweight, was helical, and was not bad for what it was.  However, it  had a square bottom and was mounted on a round surface.  This became problematic when trying to get the focuser to point directly at the secondary mirror.  Later models included 4 screws to collimate the focuser, but at the end of the day, this was only a band aid when a tourniquet was needed.       

Fast-forward to NEAF 2010.  I was manning the PB booth alone as Dave had cancelled because of a death in his family.  While there, I approached Wayne Schroeder at Starlight Instruments and asked if they would be willing to shave additional weight off of the new LW FeatherTouch focuser.  After NEAF, subsequent conversations "machinist to machinist" between Dave and Jon Joseph (StarLight Instruments) occurred and a new LW FT Focuser was born - one that would be able to ride on a Portaball.  There is a story on this very subject in Astronomy Technology Today from a few years back...

 

Regarding the electric package...  In the Peter Smitka era no two Portaballs were wired exactly the same - trust me - I owned an 8" and a 12.5" during this time; both had electrical issues neither was wired correctly, nor in the same manner.  A few years ago, Dave redesigned the entire wiring package.  it now includes an onboard battery supporting switchable power to the Rigel, dew heaters for the secondary and Rigel finder, a cooling fan and a boundary layer fan.

 

About the only downside to the PB design is that its difficult (impossible?) to have DSC's work.  In the  8" size, I do not experience any of the shakiness in the F/6 or the current F/5.5 reported in an earlier post.  A friend has a limited edition F/5 version and its works well, too.  I do use mine exclusively on an equatorial tracking platform so I am not hand tracking anything for extended periods of time.  I also keep the sphere waxed with a high quality marine-grade fiberglass wax.

 

A couple of additional pictures...

Thanks for the info about the newest interation of the 8" PB. I am the former 8"f6 owner who commented on it's shakiness and the focuser's problems. Despite these problems, i always thought the 8" ball configuration had a lot of promise if the bugs were worked out, but these problems were show stoppers for me. 

 

I ordered the full electrical package, which appeared makeshift, but I didn't use it much in California and never had any problems with it. Having an electronics background, i wasn't too concerned because i could fix anything that went wrong with it. The lack of DSCs and tracking wasn't a problem for me either, but being limited to a Rigel Quick in a heavily light poluted metro area was limiting. I don't use two-inch eyepieces, so being limited to light, 1.25" eyepieces wasn't a big drawback for me, and worthwhile tradeoff for increased portability. 

 

I was encouraged when the new owner took over, so i tried to contact him several times to learn about the changes he was making and how they might correct the problems I encountered with the 8"f6. However, i never got answers to the most basic questions like price and delivery, much less information about his design changes. After several attempts, the  most i got from him was one email that included a partial response to one question, so i wrote off Mag1 because i got the impression that it was a hobby business with a website rather than a going concern. 

 

I just talked with the owner the other day.  He seemed friendly and willing to talk.  I called, didn't try e-mail.  First call, no answer.  Second call, he answered and was very cordial.  Perhaps you should try and give him another call.



#19 gwlee

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 01:29 PM

 

 

Thanks for the info about the newest interation of the 8" PB. 

 

Glad to do it.

 

I have a who has both a new 8" and a new 12.5".  The 12.5" does not move as smoothly at first, but once its going its a dream - IF the sphere has been waxed with a Teflon or some marine fiberglass wax.

 

"Makeshift" is a good way to describe the electrical package on the older, Smitka era PB.  Peter was a friend of mine and he knew of my dissatisfaction and frustration with the wiring.

 

The best way in which to reach Dave is by phone.  He is the principle in a machine shop dedicated to aerospace, experimental aircraft and medical equipment.  He is a busy guy, but is extremely friendly.  He is also an amateur astronomer.

 

I looked at the MAG1 website again this morning. After many years under new ownership, it still shows the 8" with a helical focuser, and it provides no information that i could find about price, delivery, or options. I no longer see an email address for Dave, which is more professional than publishing an email address and not responding to email, but still gives me the impression that Mag1 is more of a hobby than a business that i would feel confident about advancing several thousand dollars sight unseen when so many other small astro businesses are operated by excellent communicators. 

 

At the same time I owned the PB 8"f6, i owned a TV60 that had an excellent 1.25" helical focuser that reduced the weight and contributed to the compactness of this telescope, so a well designed and well manufactured 1.25" helical focuser can be an desirable design trade off for some people. Living in the country now, i prefer using a Telrad finder, but a Rigel QF is usable and a good tradeoff for inceased portability. 

 

To me, the best features of the 8" PB are it's relatively large aperture comined with light weight and compactness that makes it so easy to hand carry around the yard for tree dodging, its unique pointing characteristics, and it's excellent optics, but the shakiness and poor focuser of the my old f6 caused me to replace it with a much less expensive, less portable, conventional, enclosed-tube Dob, but i am always looking for an improvement. 



#20 peleuba

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 02:04 PM

I looked at the MAG1 website again this morning. After many years under new ownership, it still shows the 8" with a helical focuser, and it provides no information that i could find about price, delivery, or options. I no longer see an email address for Dave, which is more professional than publishing an email address and not responding to email, but still gives me the impression that Mag1 is more of a hobby than a business that i would feel confident about advancing several thousand dollars sight unseen when so many other small astro businesses are operated by excellent communicators. 

 

 

 

Yes, the website is outdated.  I've nagged him about this for awhile.

 

The focuser being delivered on new Portaballs is the one I attached to an earlier post.  You can have one any color you'd like.  I chose the standard black.  Some choose blue.  And on the NEAF demo we had a red one. (see photo).

 

I disagree about your assertion of a "hobby business".  But, so what if it is?  I am trying to read between the lines here and maybe I am not sure what your trying to say.  Let me try to explain this another way...  Dave's day job is in the same location/same building as the Portaball "factory".  He has a section of floor space in the shop dedicated to Portaballs including spare parts, jigs, fiberglass molds etc.  When he has orders for new Portaballs, he works on them.  When he has repair work on Portaballs he works on that, too.

 

Part of the reason your original PB8 (and mine, too) was crappy was that Peter Smitka was under capitalized and was trying to make due in a corner of his townhome basement with a bandsaw, a router and a soldering station.  His shop was minimal and he depended upon money coming in from new orders to work on and ship out current and older orders.  He also had to live on this money.  Today, Mag1 is not the sole, nor is it the primary source of income for Dave.  He is a well funded entrepreneur running a machine shop and one of the product lines he happens to manufacturer are some of the best visual telescopes I have ever used. 

 

I am not trying to convince you to give Mag1 another try.  All I am trying to do is show that the product being produced now far exceeds the one you and I owned 10 years ago.


Edited by peleuba, 23 May 2017 - 02:08 PM.

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#21 Not Here Anymore

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 02:17 PM

How are they for balancing eyepieces?  How limited are you in terms of eyepiece selection?  I currently have simpler designs as far as eyepieces go, but I am just curious as to what can be used.  Examples would be helpful.

 

Thank you. 



#22 peleuba

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 02:24 PM

How are they for balancing eyepieces?  How limited are you in terms of eyepiece selection?  I currently have simpler designs as far as eyepieces go, but I am just curious as to what can be used.  Examples would be helpful.

 

 

I have a set of TeleVue Nagler Type 6's and 19 and 24 Panoptics that I use exclusively in the Portaball-8.  Its a perfect combination.  Lightweight, wide-field, good planetary.  

 

Stay away from 2" eyepieces in the PB-8.  


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#23 Not Here Anymore

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 03:28 PM

 

How are they for balancing eyepieces?  How limited are you in terms of eyepiece selection?  I currently have simpler designs as far as eyepieces go, but I am just curious as to what can be used.  Examples would be helpful.

 

 

I have a set of TeleVue Nagler Type 6's and 19 and 24 Panoptics that I use exclusively in the Portaball-8.  Its a perfect combination.  Lightweight, wide-field, good planetary.  

 

Stay away from 2" eyepieces in the PB-8.  

 

Seems like the 8" would be a dynamite planetary scope with pretty good deep sky.


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#24 SkyRanger

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 04:08 PM

In the past I used TV Plossls.  Now I use a combo of Deloi and DeLites for lunar and planetary and a TV 32 Pl. for wide fields.

 

My new quartz mirror will be slightly slower than F6 ( f 6.x).

 

GG


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#25 gwlee

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 06:47 PM

 

I looked at the MAG1 website again this morning. After many years under new ownership, it still shows the 8" with a helical focuser, and it provides no information that i could find about price, delivery, or options. I no longer see an email address for Dave, which is more professional than publishing an email address and not responding to email, but still gives me the impression that Mag1 is more of a hobby than a business that i would feel confident about advancing several thousand dollars sight unseen when so many other small astro businesses are operated by excellent communicators. 

 

 

 

Yes, the website is outdated.  I've nagged him about this for awhile.

 

I am not trying to convince you to give Mag1 another try.  All I am trying to do is show that the product being produced now far exceeds the one you and I owned 10 years ago.

 

Thank you for sharing your experience with Mag1's current products. It's the most concrete  and encouraging news of i have heard about Mag1 since Sky & Telescope ran a story in 2008 under the headline: "Mag1 Reborn," which sadly, wasn't so. It's great that the new owner can supply parts for old telescopes, can do upgrades, and builds an occasional new and improved scope, but the company has much less market presence than it did in Peter's day, and it was always low key. 

 

I was (am) willing to give the new owner a chance, but he didn't respond to several emailed questions, didn't return my phone call, hasn't updated his website in years, and others have reported similar experiences trying to contact him, which isn't what you expect from a going concern or a business that someone is seriously trying to rebuild.

 

From what you and others have said about the new owner being very busy running his machine shop and my experience trying to get information about his products, running MAG1 as a business is clearly not his first priority, so calling MAG1 a hobby business seems fair.

 

I care whether it's a hobby or a going concern because it would be my $3K (or whatever an 8" scope cost these days) at risk. As a buyer, i don't care whether a problem is caused by owner A's under capitalization or owner B's lack of focus, I want to avoid problems, and poor presale communication is a red flag.

 

In any case, i would not order another 8" PB without testing it myself to be sure the 8" f6 problems have been corrected. I believe MAG1 participates in NEAF, but I haven't heard about them participating in anything on the west coast, so getting hands on experience might be difficult. However, I would be willing to help by demonstrating the product at a west coast show or star party if Mag1 would loan it to me, but I get the impression the new owner has little interest in promoting the product and rebuilding the business. 


Edited by gwlee, 24 May 2017 - 12:41 PM.



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