Takahashi’s Incredible TOA-130 Refractor
Being with my scope is a special time for me to reflect on everything in my life, happy to be blessed with everything around me, including the skies above. For a while I tried to get my family interested in astronomy, and although they have a casual interest in the skies because its something I enjoy, I know the time I spend with my scopes and this hobby is my own personal time, so I accept that gift as something special to me, which my family respects also, further making this hobby very special to me.
Takahashi’s TOA-130 is a conduit to these good times. The way this scope presents the sky to me, is something that can’t easily be put into words. I’ve looked through many scopes over the years, some of the best examples of optics on the planet. This scope to me, can easily compete with the best the world has to offer, at any size, and at any cost in the sheer way it displays space in the clearest, most perfect way imaginable. The clarity of the stars, the richness of the sky, the depth in the way is defines space, is a never-ending visual experience for me.
Unfortunately, 5” refractors will never get the respect they deserve, because many unrealistically believe the 6” refractor is the bench mark in size and performance in what a refractor should be, if you ever dream about owning just one significant refractor. The TOA-130 seems to challenge that dream, redefining the reality of what an ultra high quality optical instrument can be, despite it having less than 6” of aperture.
I’ve owned many refractors in my lifetime, from Achromatics to Semi-APO’s, Doublets, Fluorites and now a triplet. From my 60mm Tasco shortly after Apollo 11 landed on the moon till this TOA-130, they have all played a part in my life as an astronomer. Generally refractors of 4” or less leave me wanting more visually, and sometimes the 6” ones seem to be too much physically, to set up, transport, and maneuver around on a mount. The TOA-130 seems to fit right there in the middle.
The Losmandy G11, Keeping with the Basics:
My TOA-130 moves so effortlessly, and balances so perfectly, when mounted on my Losmandy G11. I feel so connected to it when I move it to a distant object. It never fights with me mechanically or optically, and never wants to get away from me. A former 6” refractor I had, would take more thought and effort in transporting, in setting up, in maneuvering it around on my mount, and even when changing eyepieces. The TOA-130 isn’t like that. Mounted to my G11, it’s a very balanced, manageable package, and works with you to offer you the sky, unlike any other size and types of scope I have ever experienced.
My mount is a simple push pull model, this is my preference, because it’s easy and effortless to use. There are no noisy motors to listen to, I don’t need to stare at a keyboard or panel to get me where I want to go. It allows me to continuously observe and enjoy the sky, the way astronomers of the past would do and hopefully the way astronomers of the future who have a passion for the sky will also do. Finding objects by memory, or by a star chart, lets me appreciate each object more, and allows me to enjoy this scope more, because I get to move the scope around manually. I get to hold it, and touch it, be connected to it.
I consider myself a true visual astronomer. I always have been for over 30 years, mostly because I want to see space with my eyes, which to me is the most natural way possible to enjoy astronomy. I don’t want to have to press buttons, or look at a computer screen or keypad to enjoy the night skies. I go out side to look up, so I can enjoy space. I want to see the constellations with my own eyes, and everything that’s happening in the sky when I’m outside. I don’t want to miss what every generation before me has seen, so I’m a visual astronomer, because the sky is my passion, and because my computer is not. The TOA-130 allows me take that passion to the sky.
The Forgotten Art of Hand Built Quality:
The quality that Takahashi takes in putting this scope together is evident in every part of this scope. The way the Takahashi factory approaches it’s manufacturing is shown in the following link:
The cast aluminum focuser and rings are all hand made. The optical tube is a work of art in how beautiful it’s painted, how solid it feels, and how smooth it all works together. The drawtube is perfectly machined with never a hint of image shift or resistance during focusing. The amazing amount of light baffling is evident just by looking down the optical tube.
The sliding dew shield is solid, meticulously finished and glides along the main tube and locks in place as precisely as every other moving part. Even the soft Takahashi green paint grows on you, and the entire package is as beautiful to look at, and to touch and use, as it is to look through.
Statistically, the TOA-130 has a focal length of 1000mm. It’s an Air Spaced Triplet with a focal ratio of F/7.7. The diameter of the main tube is 156mm and the diameter of the dew shield is 179mm. The TOA uses a newly developed lens design that uses three air-spaced lenses in three groups. A lens of ultra-premium FPL-53 ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass is positioned between two low-dispersion elements. All lens surfaces are fully multicoated for maximum light transmission.
The total length of the main tube is 32” with the dew shield retracted and nothing attached to the back end of the drawtube, not even the 2” compression ring adapter with the focuser fully racked in. Extending the dew shield fully adds 5 inches of total length to the scope. With the dew shield fully extended, the Camera Angle Adjuster installed, my 2” extension tube screwed into the CAA, the 2” compression ring screwed into the extension tube, my 2 inch diagonal installed and focuser racked fully in, the total length of the complete telescope is 44.5” from end to end. The weight of the main tube with nothing attached to it is 22 pounds, this is for the S model, which is mine, with the 2.7” focuser. The optional reducer reduces the focal length down to 780mm at F/6 and with the T-Extender, the focal length is increased to 1600mm with a focal ratio of F/12.3. With all the accessories I have attached to my scope, which includes the Takahashi clam shell, the rear weighted accessory ring, the 14” Losmandy DUP mounting plate, a Telrad, a 50mm right angle finder scope and accessory ring bracket, a 2” diagonal, a 2” extension tube, the CAA and 2” eyepiece (26mm Nagler) and feather touch focuser, the scope sits on a scale at exactly 35 pounds.
Constructing a Fair Evaluation:
It needs mentioning that in my opinion, a fair review and evaluation of a telescope of any type can not honestly be made unless it has been owned and used for some time, at least through several observing seasons. Only then, can one assess how an instrument performs under a variety of seeing conditions, temperatures, lighting and humility conditions. Given this fair amount of time, a reviewer can hopefully walk his instrument through numerous examples of nearly every variety of object in space, from star splitting, to deep space galaxies hunting, to observing nebulas, planetary viewing, and more. Maybe even some solar viewing.
Its somewhat unfair to other scopes, to know how your own scope performs, and then to casually walk over to another scope, and just peek through an eyepieces for 15 seconds, and then try to make a fair evaluation of one scope vs. another.
Nevertheless, from my own personal experiences, I have seen some notable visual differences in the way the TOA-130 displays space unlike anything I’ve ever seen previous to this scope. This is the basis for this review, in how the TOA-130 performs differently than other scopes I’ve experiences, not so much about an observational report on how it sees everything I’ve looked through.
I have repeatedly been able to see a level of clarity with this scope, that even my other astronomical friends have not been able to see with their scopes and equipment. Some of their scopes are larger than mine, some are smaller, some are of different types of the same aperture, some more expensive, some less expensive. There’s a full range of optical instruments we have when we get together for a night of viewing, when I’m not alone at home in my back yard. Everyone present notices these visual differences in how the TOA presents the sky.
Observing The Andromeda Galaxy:
In observing at the Andromeda galaxy for example, using the Televue 41 Panoptic, for the first time ever, I am able to see this galaxy appear as a true spiral in the sky. It no longer looks like a massive blur of light with light and stars fanning away from a bright central core. It takes on a circular spiral appearance similar to how astro photographers attempt to displays this galaxy. The central core has depth and shape and dimension, and is not just a massive ball of glowing light. You can see where the core stops, and where the dust and stars begin to form around the core. Most of all, the stars outside the core making the body of the galaxy take on the shape of a round spiral saucer, with arms and dust and depth. The tilted spiral shape is obvious in the TOA-130, which is not present in any other refractor I’ve ever looked through, regardless of size and type. Everyone present noted these differences. The visual effect of seeing the outer stars forming this tilted spiral shape is because of the clarity in the way the TOA displayed the galaxy, unlike any other refractors I’ve looked through before at this object. It is obvious as to which stars are in front of the galaxy and which are behind it as is the direction of the spin of the spiral, and the dust within the spiral arms. It is this visual effect, which makes the Andromeda galaxy for the first time ever, visually look similar to the way astrophotography attempts to display this galaxy in images, but this happens in the eyepiece of the TOA refractor, not on a CCD chip displayed on a computer screen or on paper, massaged by hundreds and hundreds of timed frames. The visual effect is even more pronounced than some of the best astrophotography I’ve seen, because of the 3 dimensional effect one gets from seeing this galaxy rotating and floating in space among nearby stars, and beside its companion galaxies.
Observing Orion’s Trapezium
Another example of how visually different the TOA displays objects is when I’ve observed Orion’s Trapezium. Normally, when viewing the Trapezium, one looks for the E and F stars first. For the first time ever, as magnification increases, I no longer find myself merely hunting for the obvious E and F stars of the Trapezium. What catches my attention is the rays of light emit from the A thru D stars of the trapezium. The effect is similar to how sunlight punches its way through holes in clouds and shines down onto earth projecting noticeable linear rays onto the Earths surface. In the Trapezium, the 4 brightest stars send these rays of light outward into the Nebulosity. Everyone I was with, when I saw the Trapezium this way, all described it the same way, in how we saw the Trapezium on this one very clear night. No other scope I’ve ever looked through ever, has been able to display the Trapezium with this level of clarity.
One friend went as far as to ask me what did I do to my scope, to make everything seem so perfect and clear, without any signs of distortion or flaws, especially compared to the other nearby scopes. He said it was as if a layer between he and the sky was removed, and he was out there with the stars, not on Earth. Another said the TOA displays space, the way space should be displayed. I couldn't have described the visual experiences with the TOA-130 any better.
The Simple Effects of Observing Stars:
Stars are no longer just pinpoints of light as magnification increases. They become prefect round balls of light. Colors from the different temperatures of stars become so vivid, they look like the colors of gems glowing in the blackness of space.
Extremely bright stars like Sirius, glow with so much intensity, that the intense brightness can be seen rising and falling on itself, and even the tiny Pup is easy to see, even in less than ideal seeing conditions.
The most difficult stars to split in the sky, for example the Double Double of Epsilon Lyre, or Izar in Bootes, can be separated with so much definition at ridiculous high powers, that there is no longer any challenge to splitting the tightest double stars the sky has to offer.
Those are just some examples of objects I’ve observed, which made me aware of how incredible the optics of Takahashi's TOA refractors are.
There are differences compared to other scopes, and the more experienced your eyes are in detecting minute details, the more you will see. The differences have nothing to do with the size of the aperture, it has to do with the clarity in the way space is displayed through the optics. This scope isn’t about aperture. It’s about how Takahashi has designed its optics, to give you every last bit of definition the sky has to offer.
One thing others and myself have noticed that happens with the TOA refractor is that it brings out details that aren't so noticeable in other scopes. It’s not that they aren't there in some other scopes, but the smallest details become more obvious in the TOA. As one friend told me, once you see these small details in the TOA, they become easier to detect in your own scope, which in his case, was his FSQ. An example of this was in looking at the Double Cluster in Perseus. Once the double clusters were seen in the TOA, the multitude of red giants present in the TOA became so obvious, they became easier to detect in other scopes. He also went on to say that everywhere you point the scope, there is something amazing to view in the eyepiece, even if its just a scattered assortment of nameless stars against the darkness of space. That in itself says quiet a bit out the optical performance of the TOA.
More than just 5 Inches of Aperture:
A 5” APO has a substantial and very noticeable increase in performance over a 4” APO, just in sheer light gathering and resolving power. The differences aren’t as obvious in the jump from 5” to 6”, but they are there. I notice the extra light gather a 6” APO has over the TOA-130, when looking at deep space objects. I even notice the light gathering increase in a 6” achromatic refractor over the TOA-130. Hopefully neither scope is bought strictly as a deep space telescope or strictly as a planetary performer, or as a single use instrument. There is so much more to a scope of this type, than to isolate it in any one way. My own personal preference is to use my TOA as a visual scope, a back yard scope when the seeing is less than ideal, because it is so forgiving in less than prefect seeing conditions. I know many have already found these to be excellent imaging scopes, which is probably the toughest requirement of any optical instrument. There’s no doubt these optics were designed for the most discriminating astronomers, looking for the absolute best optical performance on the face of the planet.
The most interesting part of my experiences with my TOA refractor is that I consider myself a deep space astronomer. I’ve always look forward to the dark moonless nights, so I can take my C14 under the dark skies, and look for those dim transparent galaxies and nebulas. I know however, like many out here have found out also, that the conditions are not always ideal for deep space viewing. So when I can’t use my large Schmidt to its full potential, I’m happy to bring out my TOA-130, a lightweight manageable package by comparison, so I can enjoy the sky not from a large aperture instrument, but from an ultra high quality manageable refractor, that gives up so little to give you back so much, from just 5 inches of aperture.
There are differences in the way the TOA refractors display space. When searching for the smallest details you will find them with this scope, provided there is enough aperture to pull in the object. Though I have always been impressed with every quality refractor I’ve ever looked through, the visual experience is different, and noticeable, and the more time you spend with this scope, the more obvious these differences become.
The Reality of All Telescopes
The reality of this scope however, is that it makes you appreciate astronomy at a completely different level. You see the skies with a different appreciation. This scope makes me appreciate the many achromatic scopes I’ve owned over the years, more so now than ever before. Having lived with these optics now for nearly a year, and knowing how absolutely perfect these ultra high quality triplets display space, makes me realize that even a well made achromatic scope can produce a very pleasing view of the skies above us, in a very close manor. A properly colliminated Achromatic refractor will still present the sky probably at 90% or more, of what the TOA can do, on most stars and deep space. They may fall short on the brightest planets and the brightest stars, but at probably one tenth to one twentieth the cost of my TOA refractor, one could get a nice 4.7” to 5” F8 or F9 Achromatic refractor that could still give most people a lifetime of enjoyment.
I hope we as astronomers, always realize that fact, and never think that these extremely expensive high quality triplets are the only way one can appreciate the skies.
The longer I own this scope, and the more I view through it, the more I realize that its not so much the type of scope we look through, as it is how we appreciate everything we have for what it is, and the enjoyment we get and share from being involved in this hobby by sharing it with the friends and family we are close to.
We should all be so happy, to just be living in a time, when there are so many choices, and be thankful that we have the opportunity to view the skies with the knowledge and understanding, and the equipment we can have, like no other generation has ever had before us.
By Ralph Aguirre
Founder of The Sacramento Valleys Active Astronomers
Owner of: Takahashi_TOA_Refractor_Owners Yahoo Group
Click here for more about this subject. -Ed.
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