About two months ago I was perusing Cloudy Nights when I came across a thread about a dob builder I hadn’t heard of before – Marco Guidi, owner of DocTelescope, from Castelnova Bariano, Italy, which is just outside of Verona - https://www.cloudyni...pe#entry9963863.
I have owned several dobs over the last ten years, including two Starmaster 14.5 hybrids (an f/4.5 and an f/4.3) with Zambuto mirrors (that I no longer own), and a JP Astrocraft Sweet Sixteen f/4 with a Zambuto quartz mirror I had made for it, which I still own. I have loved my Sweet Sixteen since acquiring it via Astromart about five years ago. The build quality is exceptional, and I appreciate being able to tilt and roll it out my door without the need for wheelbarrow handles, which I find a nuisance. The Sweet Sixteen structure, coupled with my exceptional Zambuto mirror (I know, redundant), are about as fine a combination as one could hope for. Plus, John Pratte, the maker of the Sweet Sixteen, is a true gentleman and has provided fantastic service and support to me, even though I acquired the scope in the secondary market.
The only downside for me, however, is the weight of the Sweet Sixteen. I am now 55, and although I am in good shape and work out regularly, I have noticed the scope becoming “heavier” over the past five years I’ve owned it. The Sweet Sixteen is equipped with ServoCAT and Nexus DSC, and unlike my Starmaster hybrids, the truss poles and UTA cannot be removed all in one piece for travel. The scope requires full disassembly, including removing the ServoCAT altitude control wire from the mirror box if I wish to separate the mirror box from the ground board and rocker box. In addition, the weight and bulk of the ground board and the rocker box, either with or without the 18-pound mirror installed, have become too much for me to safely lift into a car or SUV alone. This makes me more reluctant to travel to dark sky sites with it.
So, while I have not exactly been in the market for a new dob, I have thought about finding something that would allow me to make my fine 16” mirror more portable. After spending a week or so reviewing the DocTelescope site and strolling the internet for additional information about Marco and his scopes (including finding some great videos made by Marco about them), I reached out to Marco to inquire about purchasing one.
Communications with Marco
Communications with Marco have been frequent and easy. Although he speaks excellent English, I believe he prefers to communicate via email and WhatsApp rather than by phone in order to avoid any miscommunication. His level of service and responsiveness is similar to that of Serge from AstroDevices, which is saying something. It’s been obvious that he cares very much about his work and his products.
The Telescope – 16" f/4 Dob
The telescope that I purchased from Marco was one that he had already built and had in stock. Marco originally built it with ServoCAT installed, but I asked him to remove it because (1) it would have doubled the €3500 price and I knew I could obtain the ServoCAT much less expensively here in the US and install it myself if I so wished, and (2) I wanted to try the structure without GoTo and see if that would work for me. Marco understood my reasoning and was happy to oblige. At my request, he even took detailed pictures of the scope before removing the ServoCAT so I could see how to reattach it in the future if I desired. I have since decided that I prefer GoTo on my dobs and have ordered a ServoCAT from Gary.
The scope is, in a word, beautiful. I think the bright blue rocker crescents combined with the silver UTA and the dark carbon fiber-colored truss poles look great. The blue rocker crescents also match the 10” Portaball that I had made years ago and also store in my home office, which is nice. By the way, although the truss poles and the cross beam over the crescents appear to be carbon fiber, Marco told me they are actually aluminum covered in high-quality carbon fiber decals. I happen to like the look, but I can also see how some would prefer it without the decals. I do not know whether Marco plans to offer true carbon fiber at some point, and I was aware that the pieces were not made of carbon fiber. Marco also replaced the original single ring UTA with a dual ring UTA, which I understand provides greater stiffness. This was done at his suggestion and at no additional cost to me.
I am most pleased by the ability to separate the scope into several easy-to-move parts. Marco designs his scopes so that the entire truss/UTA can be removed from the mirror box all in one piece, much like a Starmaster hybrid or a Teeter. This obviates the need for fully disassembling the scope whenever I want to travel with it.
Marco did an excellent job packing and shipping the scope from Italy. It was not inexpensive (€700), but I did not find it to be overly expensive, either, given the size of the crates and the distance they were travelling. Marco built the crate that the dob was shipped in as well as a separate crate for the truss poles. Both crates were shipped via DHL and arrived in less than a week from Italy. This was particularly impressive given that they were shipped at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in both Italy and the US. All of the items were packed with great care and I was relieved to see that all arrived unscathed and in excellent shape.
Of course, the most important issue is how well the scope performs. It's been very hard to test the scope because of COVID-19. I live just outside of Washington, D.C. in Alexandria, VA, in the Old Town section near the Potomac River. Complicating matters further is that I live right next to a park. I do most of my viewing right outside my home, and I know from experience that the unusual nature of a scope of this size tends to draw a large crowd. Consequently, I have only had it outside three times in the six weeks I have owned it, and two of those times were very, very brief. I have, however, played with it a LOT inside my home because I’ve been stuck inside due to the pandemic.
Fit and Finish - The fit and finish of the scope are excellent. I’ve never owned a predominantly metal dob before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but to my eye Marco has paid attention to all the details, both from an aesthetic and functional standpoint. It looks well-made and feels well-made, and to my untrained eye the parts, both off-the-shelf and machined, look first-rate.
Balance - Because the scope was originally designed for use with ServoCAT and a heavier mirror, one of the first things I needed to deal with was the balance of the scope. I typically use Ethos eyepieces when observing. I purchased some magnetic weights from Amazon to serve as counterweights. I found a product called Plate Mate weights, which are magnetic weights typically used in gyms and health clubs as extra weights for the weight machines. Because the mirror box and rocker box are both made of steel, they work very well.
As shipped by Marco, the scope had two 5-lb counterweights installed directly under the mirror to provide some counterbalance, but I found they were not sufficient. In addition, they were intended to be installed as permanent fixtures with bolts, and I realized that having 10 additional pounds permanently attached to the structure made it that much harder for me to lift it and move it around. I am happy with the Plate Mate products and especially appreciate the ability to remove them at will.
Mirror Cell - As designed by Marco, the mirror rests on an eighteen-point cell and is kept in place, without a sling, solely by gravity and two roller points that sit at roughly four- and eight-o’clock when the scope is pointed horizontally. Candidly, this reliance on gravity alone concerned me, so I made three additional “mirror stops,” similar to what John Pratte at JP Astrocraft uses on the Sweet Sixteen, to help prevent the mirror from falling out of the cell in the event of an accident. I may have placed the two bottom mirror stops too close to the mirror, but I haven’t had an opportunity to determine whether that is the case. I do not want to introduce any unintended pinching or astigmatism. I do notice, however, that the mirror does tend to float a bit on the cell when being moved but I haven’t done any experiments yet to determine if it always properly “rights” itself once it is fully assembled and ready for viewing.
Secondary Holder and Collimation – Because I had the dob shipped without a secondary, I had to obtain one from Antares Optics (3.1”, 1/30 wave) and install it myself. The secondary holder is different than the ones I have traditionally seen in that it is two parts: the top parts installs to the UTA via the main screw, and the lower part of the holder installs to the top part of the holder via three hex bolts. The top part of the secondary holder also has three small hex screws that push into the lower part of the holder in the traditional sense. However, I found that I needed to manipulate all of six of the bolts/screws to get collimation right. It may be because I did not properly center the secondary on the holder, or it may just be a function of the design. In any event, once I figured out how to finesse it I was able to dial in collimation, but not as easily as with the Starmaster or Sweet Sixteen. Again, it may be the result of my installation of the secondary mirror. Once collimated, the scope tends to hold collimation fairly well, though I did notice some movement on the Tublug as I worked through taking the scope from vertical to horizontal when I got to the 45 degree point. Again, this may be related to my installation of the secondary.
Focuser and Finder - The scope arrived with a single-speed Moonlight focuser equipped with an Orion electric focuser, as expected. I tried it out, and it worked okay, but I prefer to manually focus for visual and so I replaced the Moonlight with a 2” Feathertouch focuser that I repurposed from another scope. Unfortunately, the baseplate for the focuser installed on the scope was designed for the Moonlight, which is narrower, so I needed to have Marco make a new baseplate for me to accommodate the Feathertouch. The cost for this was €190 including shipping, which may seem a little high, but then again it was completely custom-made for me and Marco shipped it within a matter of days.
The scope also came with a Stellarview Multi-Reticle Red Dot Finder (F002) and an Orion finder base. I’m not a fan of the F002 because it requires a hex key to adjust it, so I removed the Stellarview and its finder base, moved the placement of the Orion finder base to where the Stellarview was, and use my Rigel Quickfinder with Orion base plate on it.
In the field - The scope is very easy to separate the parts and move to the field. I purchased a large wagon with 11” pneumatic wheels to transport it the short distance from my front door to the field. I first load the ground board/rocker box on, then the mirror box on the ground board/rocker box, and the put the truss/UTA next to those pieces, and then reverse the process at the end of the evening. The wagon also allows me to include my eyepieces, iPad and miscellaneous other equipment all in one trip. Perhaps not as easy as simply rolling out the Sweet Sixteen, but even then I needed to open both of my screen doors and main doors and put ramps in place, plus make extra trips for the eyepieces and other equipment once the Sweet Sixteen was placed. I’d say it’s a wash from a time perspective, but again the DocTelescope will be much easier to transport via car.
The Views – As I noted above, I have had very limited time at the eyepiece because of the weather and the pandemic. My first two brief trips out were solely to explore the scope’s balance and lasted less than 45 minutes. It was early dusk and the only object visible was Venus, so that’s what I looked at. Even without giving the mirror time to acclimate, I was very pleased with the view. Last week, I found myself unable to sleep so I got up and went outside with the scope around 2:30 am to check out the planets, which were relatively low in the sky but moving upward. After giving the mirror some time to acclimate, roughly 90 minutes, I was very pleased with the views of Jupiter and Saturn. However, I was still having some issues with balance so I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked concentrating solely on the views. In addition, my new shroud from Randy at Astrosystems had not come yet, and I was fighting terrible light pollution from the street lights and park lights. This was exacerbated by the fact that the scope is an open truss structure that has a much lower UTA profile than the Sweet Sixteen and an open mirror box, making it much more susceptible to reflected light. My new shroud arrived a few days ago, and I have now perfected the balance, so I am eager to take the scope back out. Naturally, the weather here is now terrible and is expected to remain so for the next week.
Preliminary Conclusions – Before going forward with the purchase, I asked an observing buddy whose opinion I trust for his thoughts about buying the scope. He was candid and said that I was definitely incurring some risk making a high-dollar purchase like this sight unseen from an international vendor. I knew he was right, but I still went forward anyway, and I am very pleased that I did. So far, I am very happy with my purchase. Marco has been a pleasure to work with and I feel I received a very high-quality structure at a fair price. What has impressed me most is Marco’s eagerness to make sure that I am happy with the purchase and the scope’s performance. Even though he is half a world away, I feel like I’m dealing with a manufacturer with integrity who cares about his reputation and his customers’ satisfaction.
I currently own telescopes of varying designs made by Questar, Astro-Physics, Televue, JP Astrocraft and Portaball. Much to my wife’s chagrin (although she’s a great sport about it), they are all on display in my home office, simply because I have nowhere else to put them. My DocTelescope certainly holds its own in their company from a look/feel perspective, and my initial observing experiences have been very favorable as well. I look forward to really putting it through its visual paces someday soon.
*Please note that I had no prior relationship with Marco Guidi prior to purchasing this scope and that I am not being compensated by him in any way, nor has he offered me any inducement to write this review. I did give Marco the opportunity to review this review prior to publishing it because I believe it is the fair thing to do. He was fine with it and suggested no changes.
Edited by jloweva, 21 May 2020 - 02:55 PM.