As it happened, a few weeks before Christmas, 1998, as my wife and I were shopping at the local Price Costco warehouse, we came across a display of these telescopes. I'd been reading just before that about things to avoid in telescopes, and this one had some of them -- the box advertised the magnifications availalable with the included .965" eyepieces and 2.5x Barlow, for instance, and was covered with images of the sort that might have come out of a large Schmidt camera rather than anything one would see through a small reflector. Conversely, however, and in contrast to the prices one might pay at Nature Company or Kit's/Ritz Cameras, these were only $200. For that price, I figured I could go ahead and get some decent eyepieces (as well as use the two microscope eyepieces I was already using in my Jason reflector) and get good use out of this compact telescope. I also remembered the bottom line: the best telescope is the one you'll use.
Needless to say, I bought one -- which rather spoiled my wife's Christmas surprise idea, since she'd been planning to go back to the store and grab one for me. I had rather suspected as much, but couldn't stand the thought of the store selling out of them before I could buy at that price.
After I'd had the scope for a while, I learned a few things about it; first, the mirror isn't at all exceptional (in fact, I probably wouldn't have considered it done had I made one that tests like this one); it has very strong zones/rings that I'm told are probably the result of machine polishing on a fast spindle, and given that probably isn't even as good as 1/4 wave. Second, the mount is somewhat more flexible than I'd like (which I half expected based on the warnings about this kind of scope that are commonly published).
Still, it collimates readily, holds collimation well, stores in my basement with the tripod at viewing height, and thus can be carried up the back stairs for a quick look at things and be ready (albeit not cooled) in five minutes. It can be partially disassembled and transported in the trunk of a small car, and still set up in a few minutes at the destination. The clock drive runs well, though it is a little fast; some day when I have some time I'll try to find the speed adjustment (I'm told there is one, a variable resistor that can be turned with a screw when the case is off) and synch it up with the Sun, which ought to give a good compromise speed also for the stars and Moon; at that time I'll probably also wire in a remote cutoff switch to allow turning off the drive for a few seconds at a time without adding vibration to the telescope. That should greatly increase the length of time one can view without having to leave the eyepiece. And, of course, I intend to refigure that mirror.
As someone wrote to me on the Amateur Telescope Makers' mailing list when I mentioned what I felt it needed, "even when you buy 'em, you gotta build 'em." How true.
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