The decision to purchase
I was home alone, on call, one weekend. Feeling lonely and depressed, I decided to extend my photography hobby by purchasing a telescope.? I looked up our local telescope dealer and rushed over to pick one up.? I knew nothing.? My first question to the fairly knowledgeable sales person was: "What kind of magnification does this thing have?" as I pointed to the fork mounted Celestar 8 sitting in the show room. The sales guy politely told me that I should probably do some research before I made a decision to purchase a scope. He recommended Star Ware. I purchased the book and went home and read it that night.? After still being convinced that I wanted to do photography (and Star Ware helped my convictions in that regard), I went in the next morning and purchased the C8 in the show room.? I was ecstatic. I had always wanted to get involved in astronomy. Visions of brightly colored objects flashed before me in my mind as I drove home.? I didn't have a clue.
The scope came with a 26mm Celestron Plossl, a worthless 6x30 finder scope, a fork mount wedge with clock drive, and Digital Setting Circles (DSC).? The scope is a Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope (SCT) which means that the optics are composed of three mirrors to reflect and fold the light beam before it gets to the eyepiece. This makes the total overall length of the scope very short.
The wedgepod is a combination wedge and tripod.? As with many low cost things that serve the purpose of two or more other things, the wedgepod has some serious problems.? You can not adjust the height of the legs. You can't tighten down anything very well. The angle of the wedge (which determines your polar alignment) had serious user interface problems.? A set of small allen head screws held the entire weight of the scope... trying to set the scope at a specific angle is very difficult since you essentially have to hold it with one hand while you tighten the screws with the other and hope they don't slip on you.
Since the scope is on a fork mount and the tripod isn't far off the ground, most observing is performed while seated... or in some twisted position on the ground with your neck strained as you try and squeeze your head up under it.
My scope out of the box had some serious collimation problems. Since I didn't know anything about it, I looked at winged stars for the first three months.? Nothing in the documentation lead me to believe that anything could be done about the images. The documentation on the scope and its use was dismal. The star chart which lists stars in the DSC is cut short... not printed in its entirety. Instructions were incomplete and down right confusing.
First Light experiences
I got the scope home and set it up in the living room and squeeled with delight.? It was sooo beautiful.? That night I took it out for a spin in my back yard.? After a couple of hours of frustration, I finally found the ring nebula M57.? I was not impressed. It was this dim thing that I couldn't focus! I coulnd't find anything else.? I convinced myself that what I needed was a darker sky so I hauled my treasure chest of optics to my place in the Sierra the next weekend. I spent the first night trying to get the DSC to work.? It didn't.? The next day I set up the outfit on the deck in front of the cabin and moved the scope back and forth, up and down, trying to see which motions did what on the DSC. It wasn't long until I figured out that the settings shipped with the DSC were incorrect for the scope. 5 minutes working through the settings made sure that they were correct. It was then that I learned my first lesson:
If it's broke, don't fix it at night.? Spend the precious darkness observing or tuning your knowledge of the sky.
That night, I was treated to things that I had never seen before. But... I still was expecting much more than I could see. There was no color in anything and I was terribly disappointed in that.? Globular star clusters were boring to me (this has changed significantly!) because they were just some stars clumped together. I wanted to see galaxies and nebulae.? Eventually I did hone in on the objects of interest and my fascination with the sky grew.
I continued to set up the scope where I could and when I could. I never did find out about star parties or visit with anyone else who was into the hobby.? BAD MISTAKE! But after a couple of months, I saw a notice on the SAA newsgroup about an in town event sponsored by the SJAA. It was here that I finally met other observers with various types of scopes.? It was there that I found out about Fremont Peak and I started to visit that site on a very regular basis.
As time went on, I found much to my dismay that the cheap reflectors made out of cardboard were able to "see" things much better than my SCT.? And to make matters worse, I found out that much larger aperature newtonian truss tube instruments cost much less than what I paid.
I tried photography.? I spent many dollars on all the doo dads that you need.? The scope and mount combination were not adequate to the task. I gave up in frustration.
SO... I discovered that my SCT had poor contrast (as most SCT's do), wasn't as good as a cardboard telescope for observing, and had little hope of ever capturing a decent photo. As my interests turned to observing, I abandoned my interest in the SCT and ordered an 18" Obsession.
I didn't lost my desire to photograph however and I kept the C8.? Late last fall, I purchased a Losmandy G11 mount which gave the C8 some new life.? I did some experimental photos with it and had favorable results.? The C8 on the equatorial mount seemed much easier to use.? I collimated the tube carefully and found a new friendship with the instrument.. it ain't that bad.
I mounted the instrument on a GP mount and since then, the ole C8 has seen much more use.? It is now the scope that I take to star parties. I can stand and observe. There is no more twisting in convoluted positions to get to the eyepiece.? And the tracking of the GP seems to be just a bit nicer for some reason.
Automobiles come in various types and sizes and serve well for specialized purposes. Some try to satisfy all requirements.? Yes, the SCT's are the minivans of telescopes.? They are general purpose instruments not really great at anything. But you can try. There is no end to the number of cool techie accessories you can buy to do this or that. But in the end, you still have a minivan.