The Istar 204/1200 – Second Generation 2014
I’ve always had a liking for refractors. My first serious instrument was a Vixen 102 ED SS, a beautiful 660 mm focal length lightweight refractor, easily supported on the Vixen GP mount. Almost made for each other. Since 2001 its been the best portable telescope I’ve used. In subsequent years I have acquired a Vixen NA 120S (a Petzval designed 120 mm / 800 mm FL), and a WO 66 triplet which is a great travel scope. I had always wanted a bit more aperture yet liked short tubes for maneuverability so when I saw a 6” Antares in 2006 I went ahead and bought it. I’ve had a few good years of observing with this scope, mainly from my house in the northern suburbs of Sydney, with its attendant light pollution. I decided I wanted a bit more but I could never quite bring myself to order anything I felt justified in spending upon until I noticed the Istar range. A little research and I was hooked. In Feb 2014 I placed my order and sent over three and a half thousand USD to Mike at Istar and settled back to wait. I also sold my Antares – I had to make room.
Nearly 11 months later the Istar finally arrived. I had picked the f/6 “Comet Hunter” model. Part of the delay was in remaking the tubes, as Istar had found the original assembly just too heavy. I have to say I appreciated this as the new scope was 16 kg (35 lbs) down from 20 kg (44lbs). 9 lbs is a lot extra when you are trying to get it onto a high dovetail on a G 11 or similar mount! The scope was well packed in a thick cardboard carton with the scope itself surrounded by aerated foam blocks. Istar is clever in their packing and had placed the 3.5” WO focuser, in its own padded box, between the lens end of the scope and the box, making extra protection for the lens. The focuser was fitted with William’s new Rotolock eyepiece / diagonal lock system which is a self centering double opposed taper. I have to say this in its present form is one of the best eyepiece locking systems I have used.
This second generation Istar comes with an extendable dew cap, some 400mm long offering excellent dew shielding. A flat lens cap snaps in place with embedded magnets holding it to the outer ring of the dew cap. The white tube (I asked Mike for white because you can see it better in the dark) is held in 2 lined quick release tube rings, with several M6 tapped holes. I ended up drilling
some extra holes in my Losmandy plate to accommodate the 60 mm spacing of the M6 holes (the Losmandy plate comes with predrilled holes 40 mm apart). I also mounted a 15x40 mm Al bar along the top of the rings to act as a handle and guide or camera mounting bar.
First light was in Sydney, with street lights and all. Seeing to mag 3.5 (E Crucis) I looked at Omega Centauri, Jupiter and M42. I was using a WO dielectric diagonal and switching between a TV Pan 35 and a 17mm Nagler IV – the latter quite the best eyepiece I’ve ever owned. I have to say it was the best view of each of these objects I have had in any telescope in Sydney. I quite forgot how many stars there were in the trapezium. A few nights on I looked at “cluster row” - the Jewel Box (NGC 4755) along through Carina (NGC 3532, 3199, 2867)– some magnificent clusters with a hint of nebulosity. The Jewel Box really jumped out at me – crisp, well coloured stars just like a box of bright jewels. As James Edwards suggested in his review of the gen one “beast” this scope scoffs at street lights. I spoke to Ales at Istar about how good the seeing is. Ales is the Istar designer and technical expert and very willing with his advice. The performance of this telescope is a combination of aperture, of course, the high quality glass Ales has been able to source (I would say it’s ED but Ales says no, he can’t call it that) and the exceptional workmanship of the lens makers.
A week or so later, I took the scope to its long term home, my holiday house n the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The altitude of 1140m and having a mountain range separating the view from the lights of 5 million people makes for clear dark skied – when it’s not cloudy or drizzly. After a few ‘bum steers’ I got a clear night, wheeled out the scope on the G11 and looked at the same little collection as before.
Quite the best view ever of Omega Centauri, many individual stars CLEARLY visible with the 17mm Nagler. A brighter view than I ever had even with a C11 Celestron (I need to try these side by side). Omega Centauri by the way is a splendid object which can give a great illustration of the scale of our universe. This globular cluster resides something like 15,000 light years away.
Extragalactic. If you look at a foot long ruler, with a 300 mm metric scale and imagine that represents 15,000 years, in your life time the light from O. Cent will have moved about 2 millimetres.
The jewel box again, truly sparkling. You could almost reach for the rubies and beryls. Even the Easter moon, with a filter, was a joy to behold. I published some lunar photos on the Australian Ice-in-Space forum and had some comment on the blue fringing. I tried again with a Baader fringe killer – cleaned it up nicely but gave the rest of the moon a jaundiced look. It was clear and crisp viewing though. I suppose if I had shelled out $20,000 instead of $3,500 I might have got better colour definition in an 8”, but for my money, the Istar is a winner of a scope and I’m dying to get some mount-aligned time for a few DSO photos. In the mean time I’ll settle for those glorious long nights of May to September where I have 2 months of Virgo’s galaxies to pick out followed by the ‘big-S’ splendours.
There’s a lot of comment about short focus refractors and coma and distortion. So far, even with 82 degree FOV eyepieces I’ve not been able to see it. I suspect its Ales’ lens quality once again. All I can say is, if you’ve got strength in your wrists, take the risk! You won’t be disappointed.
So, what don’t I like about it ? Not much really. Some M6 holes in the rings 40mm apart. The scope is a little front heavy which means it has a low eyepiece location but no worse than you would get say with an f/8. I’ve bought the column extension for the Losmandy and when I fit that it will take the scope up nicely. It needs a big finder. Probably just my preference but I like to find a patch of fuzz then stare at it through the main scope. I’m thinking of a 26mm crosshair in an Orion ST 80.
The other problem is it’s at the holiday house. After this much fun I’m watching the AUD/USD for a day when I’m going to order a 150 f/5 as my home scope…what more can I say.
Thank you Ales, thank you Ales’ team and Mike. It is truly an experience being able to own a crafted item and be made to feel part of the family.
John Croker Lindfield NSW Australia