The FSQ-106ED and its baby sister, the FSQ-85
There have been separate reviews on the 106 and the 85 done in the past, but nowhere will an amateur astronomer find a detailed comparison of the two instruments, with the specific intention of ascertaining which is better for certain applications. I so wish I had this work to read before I bought both of my FSQs new, because I could have made a much more informed buying decision. Looking back though, I am very glad I had the opportunity to experience both, as I have done with all sizes of my LX200s. What a joy it is receiving these boxes within boxes within boxes and finally digging out the gems in the center — accompanied by shiny (okay, not shiny) new accessories and an authentic Certificate of Inspection. That certificate touched by pretty much everyone who is anyone at the great Takahashi proving grounds; Guaranteeing their approval and your satisfaction with sincere bows and sharp and pointed signatures. With the 85, you even receive a birth certificate announcing the arrival of your new GIRL, yes, along with a (bubble gum) cigar. -It’s nice to know that the fanatics over at Tak are not humorless, and that they don’t have their noses too far in the air!
Your choice to purchase the FSQ-106ED or the FSQ-85 is probably hinging on the fact that they are extremely expensive for their apertures. My review of the Baby–Q focused on the fact that the 85, a dedicated astrograph, can be purchased, and actually was purchased, almost solely for visual work. I say almost because I do occasionally install my Canon 40D in the diagonal to let the chip find what my eyes cannot detect. Objects that the mount’s onboard computer swears are there. However, that is infrequent, so essentially, my decision was based on how it would perform visually in a busy rich-field playground. Maybe at a time in my life when I have more observing opportunities, things will be different, and I can spend hours with the equipment just clicking away. This work will not touch upon what both telescopes can do with ten plus pounds of photographic gear hanging from their rear. Partly because I do not have access to the various cameras and support equipment necessary to carry out the testing, but mainly because my first love is visual observing. Besides, have all seen countless images these astrographs have taken, and know that they are first in their class. If you need a specific answer to what fits which scope, just ask it on the Tak Yahoo site. If you have a question on what fits what scope as far as visual work goes, you would be very disappointed not to be able to find the answer as few people have had both instruments. I hope I can answer some of these questions and curiosities you may have somewhere in this review.
I cannot count the number of posts on various forums where someone has opined that it is overkill to purchase these units for visual work. I think many prospective buyers go in other directions because of posts such as these, that usually boast the blessings of the triplet rather than the unnecessary weight and cost of the quadruplet. Yet there are many of us in the amateur community who, after many years of tolerance, treasure a flat field, a field devoid of those ridiculous and needless aberrations that the fast doublet or even the moderately fast triplet introduce into the optical train, hence, the eyes and mind. Speaking for myself, when I am under the black cloth patiently observing, I cannot tolerate those peculiarities that confuse my ability to distinguish whether an oblong or elongated object in frame is a comet or merely coma, field curvature, or astigmatism. Is that the only reason? I frankly am not certain how much simple aesthetics have to do with it. In any case, if the field of view is tainted with these issues, I tend not to keep that particular telescope.
Recently, I read great things about the Astronomy Telescopes 152mm refractor that was selling for $1,000 with a new Stellarvue focuser. A six inch refractor that is not $10,000? Well, who could resist that mystery? So I purchased one and ran it through its paces. It was quite a surprise to find that it performed exceptionally well for an f.6 six-inch doublet. However, it took about three nights to realize that no matter how good a price is, a perfectly flat field is priceless. A good example is if you walk into a car dealer with your heart set on a red convertible and the salesperson talks you into a blue one because he has to move inventory. Sooner or later, that half-priced vehicle is going to get on your nerves because it isn’t what you wanted. Let’s face it. Life is too short to make compromises we are not happy with. Especially when one gets up in the years. After a certain point, he or she deserves to get what he or she desires.
Please do not mind the incorporation of the many similarities of my review of the 85 back in 2010, as there are so many things that are exactly the same with the two scopes. If you are seriously considering one of them, please be sure you read that review here on Astromart to get a more informed picture of the Baby-Q, as its specs are discussed in detail. This review favors the 106ED for that reason. I will include a detailed compilation of points of comparison that will assist the prospective buyer in their choice between the two FSQ telescopes. If you are reading both reviews now, trying to make the decision on which one to buy, it is my opinion that the FSQ-85 (AKA the most yummy telescope in the world) is the nicer of the two, and is much easier to mount and generally handle. It can also be taken on trips to evaluate terrestrial wonders, as I have done many times. The 106 would be uncomfortably heavy to work with, not to mention the security issue of leaving it in a vehicle while you step out of said vehicle numerous times during a weekend or vacation. Additionally, the increase in aperture is not enough to sway a buyer to go with the 106, and don’t forget you lose some field of view also. On the other hand, the four-inch focuser of the New Q could suit you better if you plan to use heavy cameras, filter wheels, etc. This is actually the only reason to purchase the 106 over the 85. Having said this, the 85 is no slouch. It too has an excellent and sizable focuser. You can probably sense that this is going to be an interesting duel between the two instruments. —I know what you are thinking. So then, why did I buy the 106? Because I already had the 85!
Note: There is also an EDX model of this scope. It has a shorter back focus of approximately 153mm, compared to the ED version which has 178mm. The EDX comes with a standard camera angle adjuster. The ED reviewed here, has a built in rotating focuser, controlled by the familiar captain’s wheel. Both can image and both can be used visually. It’s just that the EDX favors and supports astrophotography with heavy equipment installed in the rear cell. The optics are identical on both instruments. According to Art Ciampi of Texas Nautical Repair, Takahashi’s American distributor, “The difference between the two telescopes is the configuration of attachments and nothing more.”
The Flatfield Super Quadruplet 106 is a modified four-element double ED Petzval design which eliminates astigmatism, coma, secondary spectrum, spherical aberration and field curvature. This alone, in my opinion, is enough to buy it. It owns an attractive focal length of 530mm at a fast f5, slightly longer and faster than the FSQ-85. This will give you an 88mm image circle without the reducer, and a 44mm image circle with it. Also with the reducer, the focal length can be brought down to a crazy 385mm, with a new focal ratio of an even crazier 3.6. In the opposite direction, with the 5-element 1.6x Extender Q, the scope can be transformed to an 850mm FL telescope at f8. That’s super kool. This configuration is what you would want to use if you were to visually observe planets or the moon. However, make no mistake that this is a wide field instrument, and you should not expect much in terms of planetary scale. BUT, you will receive an extremely pleasing and detailed image. It’s just that because of the lack of FL, that image will be small. Obviously, when you crank it up, the object will gain scale, but detail will suffer. In typical Tak fashion though, it has to go way up for that to happen. While you are deciding how far to push the magnification, you are using the accurate and included rack and pinion four-inch focuser to arrive at your destination. To fine tune your arrival, use the also included 7:1 Tak microfocuser. And as long as your eyepiece or binoviewer does not weigh more than 11 pounds, you will get there — without slippage.
Pertaining to changing eyepieces to crank her up, let’s talk about contaminants for a second. You really want to limit the unsealing of the rear cell when you change oculars. When you do it, do it quickly and efficiently. Needless to say, don’t observe in a sandstorm. Cleaning these fine optics can be tricky, and you really want to put the task off as long as possible, like every two or three years or so. All it takes is a minute capillary leak of the cleaning fluid between a group of elements and it could cost you big time in sending the unit back to Japan. Not Texas. Japan. And while we are on the subject of sending things back to Japan, there is something else I should mention at this point.
The rear element (of the 106 only - pictured) is exposed quite clearly when the rear cell cap is removed. This makes it very easy to hit the glass with your fingers, knuckles, caps, extension tubes, or whatever. As we say at my job, USE EXTREME CAUTION when removing the large silver cap. Better still, point the rear cell downward and rack the focuser all the way out before removing said cap, which will probably be on from transport because it makes the OTA shorter for most carrying cases. This aspect may seem trivial, but we all know how the dumbest of mistakes are made at 3AM in the freezing cold.
FSQ-106ED - $5,150
Tak 2”diagonal - $503
Extender Q - $503
Focal reducer - $730
Rings and plate or Tak clamshell - $300
Finder and bracket - $350
Scopeguard case - $370
So there you have it. $8,000 for the necessities. Plus you will need some of Takahashi’s infamous and costly tubes and adapters for your specific requirements, as well as at least one fine ocular. I would recommend a big, fat expensive Nagler or Ethos to take advantage of the nice short focal length.
I have seen the FSQ-106 at NEAF many times in the past, but there’s something about seeing and holding it in your living room that opens your eyes to the fact that this is a professional grade, well constructed telescope. Opening the box, even compared to the 85, is a kick. Once you get past the Get Smart packaging, it immediately strikes you and gives you a very distinct feeling of pride in ownership. It’s a combination of the creamy and glossy Takahashi white, the tasty cherry red stripe, the apparent engineering that went into its construction, the massive focuser, the build quality, the price, the weight, and the legendary reputation that does it. Not to mention that you get hit with this feeling that you didn’t spend that much after all. I should add at this point that the FSQ-85 will give you just as pleasant a feeling. The TOA-130 was exciting also, but when I picked it up, it was all over.
Back to the TOA-130. Talk about nose heavy. I recall thinking, How in the world am I going to mount and balance this monster? That conundrum subtracted from the joy of receiving that scope. The FSQ telescopes are perfectly balanced and very easy to work with out of the box.
If you have ever mounted the 130 or 150, even with the supplied counterweight, the scopes are difficult to maneuver. By the time you achieve acceptable balance (with the tripod legs fully extended,) viewing at the zenith has you sitting on the ground like a pretzel. And if it is winter and the ground is cold, that gets old real quick. So you’re thinking, Yeah, but what about planetary work with that very short focal length of the FSQs? My answer to that would be to get yourself an SCT. The key to being happy with any instrument is realizing its limitations and not exceed its designed purpose.
Like the astrophotography aspect, it would be kind of redundant to give you an object to object description of using the 106 visually. At this point, it goes without saying that observations are uncannily sharp and brilliant, with crystal clear definition all around, epitomizing the term, Optical Perfection. Plus nebulosity is nicely discoverable with the 106, I find, with an authentic color interpretation; not to forget their stunning and stark clarity. Basically, these scopes bring you to a higher awareness regarding the neighborhoods the objects that we view with higher focal lengths live in. They also make one feel like a genuine and impassioned visual astronomer, in a place where time stops. A place that is filled with spiral shapes, dust, and sharp columns of magnificent light. More importantly, they make one feel more like a scientist, because the field is full of reality- what is there- not mistakes in the system that fill the field with what is not. If you must have more specifics, simply run over to the other review and imagine everything on a slightly larger and slightly brighter scale, and a slightly narrower FOV. Pictured is a precipice in the White Mountains of New Hampshire at about a half a mile with the FSQ-85. Note the interesting cuts in the rocks. They look man-made, but if you were privy to the location, you would see that is not possible. If anyone has any idea how they got like this, please e-mail me and enlighten me. –Between the two works, you should become well equipped to make an educated decision on which scope to purchase.
Report Card – FSQ-106ED -
-Like the 85, extremely attractive
-Like the 85, portable. Also convenient for terrestrial viewing such as exploring high peaks. Inherent ability to extract detail is great for deciphering wildlife/rocks/birds/trees/bushes/insects at a distance. All this would be to supplement your astronomical work. I admit that the purchase of the 106/85 for this purpose alone would be very silly
-Like the 85, great pride in ownership.
-Like the 85, crisp contrast throughout a full, flat, evenly illuminated field of view
-Like the 85, instrument does not seem to be sensitive to bad seeing conditions
-Like the 85, startling performance on the lunar surface, far surpassing its 106mm aperture. Yet barely more perceptible than the 85
-Like the 85, performs extremely well with binoviewers. Slightly more difficult to set the system up in this configuration than the 85
-Like the 85, excellent built quality
-Like the 85, well balanced in any visual configuration (or with Canon DSLR)
-Like the 85, muscular, backlash-free focuser – even if you are not into A/P, binoviewers, heavy eyepieces and even leaning do not affect this unit
-Dew shield held in place by two knurled screws, producing a nice, smooth glide
-Like the 85, beautifully baffled
-Like the 85, price includes a good stable of useful accessories
-Like the 85, nice weight. Stable and easy to carry and mount. The 85 is obviously a bit easier
-Like the 85, the mount you choose does not have to be heavy duty or accurate (for visual) opening up a world of possible options
-Like the 85, for A/P, the flattening element is already precisely placed, so there is no need to worry about the distance to the image plane, custom spacers, or external corrective optics. If this instrument is in focus, it doesn’t care what type of camera you are using, it’s ready to fly
-An even more attractive limiting stellar magnitude (YMMV as per your own unique time and observing locale)
-Like the 85, will retain its resale value well into the future
-Like the 85, very thoughtfully packed and shipped
-Like the 85, expensive. But I believe it’s a fair price for such a fine instrument
-Has a very snap-to focus
-Captain’s wheel is convenient, fun and easy to use. Holds equipment solidly at any angle
-Lack of focus travel (I know it has to be this way for design purposes, but it still sucks.)
-Because of the above, shorter FL oculars do not come to focus without the extender as the 85 does
I must say that like the FSQ-85, I am very happy with this telescope for visual work, regardless of its shortcomings that we shall discuss in a moment. You could go out and buy yourself a nice triplet for so much less money, and be perfectly happy with it. For all of us, there are more pressing needs for over $5,000 (bare) than a small OTA. You will have to search yourself for the courage to pull the trigger. After all, the 106 is a dedicated astrograph. But you should look at it this way; the wonderful four-element modified Petzval quadruplet design of this scope is a great investment in enjoyment for the future, as our visual accommodation is only deteriorating with age. It will catch up to a short focus triplet eventually.
106ED or 85?
I will first explain the following in paragraph form, and because that can become a bit confusing, follow up with a neat summary of the differences between the two, again from the POV of the 106. I have also included images of the scope in every configuration with various oculars focused on clouds outside my window in the daytime. Note the focus extension in every picture and it will give you an idea of how much travel you will need on these or similar eyepieces.
At the beginning of this review, (I like to stay in real time) I mentioned that I prefer the 85 over the 106. I have since concluded that the 106 kind of grows on you, or shrinks actually. Over time, it becomes just as easy to work with as the 85. The one feature that pulls the 106 way ahead is the massive rotatable focuser. This unit is built into the telescope, thereby increasing valuable backfocus, and giving the user the fun of utilizing the captain’s wheel to “steer” oculars or camera equipment to the preferred orientation. This wheel has 4 tubular/cylindrical spokes (4 less than a real one) which are used to adjust the tightness of the focuser rotation. All you have to do is loosen the wheel a bit and turn the assembly; and if the load dictates, you may then lock it. The great thing I discovered with the spokes are that they easily unscrew in case any of them in one or more quadrants are going to strike the mounting platform or similar. When you are at the helm of the 106, it is good to know that your attached equipment is not going to be caught by gravity and fall around—possibly hitting something, or even falling to the ground. Another plus of this focuser is that it works with more authority than the one on the 85 because the mechanics feel as if they grab all around at collective points, or even work as a clutched system. Perhaps even by a circular span of ball bearings? (I know, a good reviewer takes things apart to establish the facts. I just don’t feel that’s a good idea with that element right there ;-) Either way, it’s a fine design for visual. Note however, that I am not familiar with the flexure issues astrophotographers may detect because of the separation/seam inherent in this design.
The 106 also fits comfortably in the same soft carrying bag pictured that I use with the 85, and when I pull it out, it is difficult to tell the difference in size and/or weight. As you can see, it is easily removed with one hand, just like the 85. The 31mm Nagler and 21mm Ethos work at native (no extender) with just the 2”Tak diagonal like the 85. Unlike the 85, other shorter focal length eyepieces such as the 14 and 6mm Radians and 2.5mm Vixen DO NOT come to focus in this configuration. This is bad. All aforementioned eyepieces work with the extender with no special extension barrels. The 85 will do all of this also, plus it will focus binoviewers with the extender in the Tak diagonal without the 1.70x glass path compensator, which is a plus for the 85, as installing that small and delicate piece in the Baader in the dark and/or cold is a hassle. It’s best to just have it in all night, which makes perfect sense unless you have another scope set up and have to keep removing it. Again though, with the 85, you can just switch the binos and eyepieces, again, in the Tak diagonal. With the 106, you have to switch the entire Tak diagonal and eyepiece/Baader Mark V bino assemblies. Another plus for the 85 is that it will accept the Canon 40D with only the Tak diagonal. This is very convenient when you see (or don’t see) something in the eyepiece and want to take a quick image of the field, hence the object. You can efficiently switch between oculars and camera, and just as easily switch them back. The 106 unfortunately, will focus the 40D only after adding the included extension tube. With this set up, it is not possible to use the diagonal, which is I giant negative to me, as it makes imaging my way (with a diagonal) a big headache.
In this configuration, the extension tube will keep the camera in focus, albeit at that uncomfortable viewfinder-on-the-ground angle, when you are near or at the zenith. You will be able to use the 40D with the diagonal, but the extender must also be used, of course slowing the focal ratio and narrowing the imaging field. With the Tak diagonal, this arrangement will only come to focus for terrestrial work. You can always get a shorter diagonal or cut a barrel on one (I did this with my Sky-90) if the above aspects don’t bother you. -If not for the focuser on the 106, I would definitely prefer the 85. In fact, if the external camera angle adjuster allowed the 85 to come to focus with the binoviewer, it would be a lock. But the first thing I found it necessary to do when I received that scope was to remove it because it simply ate up too much backfocus. Equatorially mounted, this would prove very inconvenient, both visually and photographically.
Summary> From the point of view of the 106ED- versus the 85:
-106 price is $1,500 more
-106 is 15.4 pounds vs. 8.58 pounds
-106 has ALMOST an inch more aperture
-106 backfocus is 19mm less
-106 is 4 inches longer
-106 has built in ROTATABLE focuser (that assists with backfocus)
-106 has the fun Captain’s wheel
-106 has 4”focuser vs. 72mm
-106 is slightly more powerful when extended (850FL vs. 675FL)
-106 has slightly smaller FOV
-106 has slightly longer FL and faster f ratio
-106 has exposed rear element that can make the user quite nervous
-106 has levered focus lock that has a more positive feel and does not move the barrel
-106 is slightly more difficult to set up for binoviewer operation, and requires 1.70 gpc, whereas 85 requires none
-106 is unable to reach focus with the Canon 40D with a diagonal (and no extender)
-106 is slightly more difficult to mount
-106 is generally more difficult to use visually
In closing, when you consider the pluses and minuses of each telescope, it basically results in a draw. An absolutely perfect short focus instrument would be a combination of the two all wrapped up in one package.
I wholeheartedly recommend either of these telescopes for purchase for visual use only. I myself have swung back to the 85 as my personal preference (isn’t real time confusing?) because of its ability to come to focus much easier with a variety of oculars and minimal switching around. I am going to keep the 106 because the focuser is just a fantastic built-in feature. For A/P, I would go with the 106 because you will probably install a camera set up and just leave it. The most important thing that we all know to be true is that a telescope that is manageable and friendly to us (I recall the 130 actually becoming my enemy, despite the fact that it is so freaking scrumptious) is a telescope that is going to be used most often. Because of their sizes and weights, the FSQs are beautifully friendly, and an absolute privilege to own.
I sincerely hope I have helped with your decision on which one to buy.
Clear skies and good luck!
Okay, this is a few weeks later and with the assistance of some of my nice Cloudynights forum friends, I have found a solution to making the 106 work with the binoviewers with a diagonal, and with only the 1.25 glasspath compensator. The manufacturer’s instructions actually suggest having this piece in all the time to eliminate spurious color introduced by the internal prisms. This arrangement maintains a power of 28x, a fantastic magnification for sweeping the vast and dense star fields of the Milky Way. What it takes is to buy the Baader T-2 Prism diagonal for $250, and something called a Feldstein adapter for $165. This configuration has more than enough travel remaining to accommodate two Vixen 8mm LV-Ws (approximately 80x for another $500) a better and easier alternative, I think, than switching glasspath compensators. I have tested the setup at night and it works great.
The next biggest annoyance was to get the 40D to focus with a diagonal. I contacted PreciseParts in Florida and Ashley made a custom adapter (Baader T2 Prism to Generic 2-inch (48mm) Filter for just under $100 shipped. As seen in the second photo, the camera is now seated perfectly on top of the Baader by way of a short tube connected to the T-mount on the camera. It comes to focus day and night, which is exactly what I needed. I will keep the assembly in one piece, and use the original Baader mirror diagonal with the 1.7x glasspath compensator (rather than buying another prism,) then have the Tak diagonal ready to go with the Nagler or Ethos connected so all I have to do is switch to any assembly, as seen in the final image. This method is obviously the most costly, but the easiest to use. More importantly, it will keep me from having to switch all these small and delicate pieces in the cold and dark, and keep the glass surface of the rear cell cleaner for much longer.
So there you have it. The 106ED is more of a pain to use visually, but with a bit of effort, all can work out. Because of this effort, the 106 is now ahead again in my personal race to find the highest quality short focus refractor for visual work.
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