Tele Vue TV-60 Review

 

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TV-60 with dew-shield and draw-tube extended.

 

A Manifesto for Portability

 

The most important thing for any astronomer, but especially one living in northern climes where long spells of wet weather offer only short breaks in the cloud, is the ability to get out there and observe quickly when an opportunity presents. Work and family commitments only add to this need for easy, hassle-free access to the night sky. Setting up that big scope may not seem too much of a chore on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but is it still going to feel that way on a cold Tuesday night, when you’ve worked all day, put the kids to bed and have just a few minutes left of the evening? Don’t underestimate this effect. My own experience is that any telescope that I can’t just pick up, walk out and use will languish for weeks at a time.

 

Then again, some people need a truly portable ‘scope, one they can stick in a backpack and climb a hill with. The TV-60, Tele Vue’s most compact model,  does both of these things better than any other telescope I can think of. Al Nagler apparently calls it his “briefcase” ‘scope: it really is that small.

 

I lived in a small Swiss town, just one street back from the lakefront on a cobbled street, for two years. Living in a first storey flat in a traditional building in the old town, I had no balcony, no garden or yard, nowhere to put a telescope. During those years the TV-60 was invaluable. I would walk through an archway to the lake front promenade and set up there, or climb up into the terraced vineyards behind town where it was really dark. I had memorable views with it and even used it to search for comet McNaught from a viewpoint high above Lake Geneva. I can’t think of another ‘scope portable enough to hike with the way I did with the TV-60.

 

Design and Build

 

A bit of history is in order here. Tele Vue have been making small high-quality refractors for a couple of decades, but their first true grab-and-go ‘scopes, the ones that started a revolution in keep-it-simple visual astronomy at a moment’s notice, were the Ranger and Pronto. These scopes had very different tubes, but shared the same 70mm/480mm optics. Those optics boasted ED glass and were good quality, but they were nonetheless achromats.

 

The Pronto was aimed at the astro’ market, having a sliding dew shield with screw-in dust cap, a heavier tube and a 2 inch rack-and-pinion focuser; the Ranger was much lighter, with a draw-tube and a helical focuser and was aimed more at daytime users.

 

Then a few years ago, Tele Vue split these two scopes apart. The TV-76 looks near identical to the Pronto, but has a bit more aperture (a full 3 inches!) and is a proper apochromat. The Ranger was dropped and replaced with a completely new scope, again a full APO: the TV-60.

 

Lens

 

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Now you might think that when replacing the Ranger with the TV-60, a drop of aperture from 70mm to 60mm is a retrograde step. Certainly 10mm of aperture is a lot at this size (36% by area – which is what counts) and so the Ranger might beat the TV-60 in some areas, such as deep sky. But in most areas the TV-60 is superior, aperture notwithstanding.

 

The reason is that in place of a fast achromat with lots of high-power chromatic aberration, the TV-60 gets an FPL-53 doublet with excellent colour correction. That doublet has high-quality coatings and is, in my opinion, one of Tele Vue’s best lenses. Why? Because the larger ED doublets (including the 102mm F9) show some chromatic aberration, whilst the TV-60 shows virtually none.

 

As you can see from the photo, the TV60 lens is held in its simple cell by a thread-in ring and the cell attached to the OTA via three bolts. As with all Tele Vues, collimation at the factory is achieved by tapping the cell into perfect alignment and then tightening the screws – simple but effective!

 

The lens is covered by a plastic clip-on dew-cap. This has a cheaper feel than the Tele Vue standard thread-on metal cap, but is much more convenient in use (no more screech – screech in the dead of night, waking your neighbours).

 

Tube

 

The Ranger was still fairly large and bulky, with a fixed dew-shield, but the TV-60 is tiny: just 10 inches long with the dew-shield retracted and a mere 1.5kg in weight, including the mounting bar. Those statistics make the TV-60 just about the smallest, lightest APO I know of this side of a MiniBorg 45ED and almost exactly the same size and weight as a Questar Duplex OTA (or Field Model).

 

The TV-60 is much more finely crafted than the ranger too, with a tapered CNC tube that has machined-in micro-baffles in place of the old matt-black sandpaper that lines the Ranger (and the Pronto/TV-76 for that matter). The result is that the TV-60 is a very different product from the TV-76 – far smaller and lighter and more suited to terrestrial use, with appearance and finish that are more like a camera lens or a pair of high-end binos. An “i.s.” (imaging system) version with a bigger focuser is available, but is a rather different type of ‘scope built around the same lens.

 

Urban Stealth

 

The small size and flat black appearance of the TV-60 may not be as pretty as a slim white tube, but in an urban setting they’re, well … stealthy is the word. I used to appreciate this, viewing from the busy lakefront promenade where I lived in Switzerland. My habit was to hide in a dark corner, right next to the lake where hardly any of the customers at the nearby takeaway noticed me. Yes I know Al Nagler used to set up a Dob’ on a Manhattan street and show The Moon to passers-by … but I’m British, for goodness sake! I’m just too reserved for ‘sidewalk astronomy’; maybe you’re the same and the TV-60’s stealthy nature will help.

 

If you want to observe somewhere like this and avoid hearing “Is that a telescope? Can you see Uranus?” every five minutes, you need a stealth-scope: the TV-60.

 

Focuser

 

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Helical focuser with draw-tube fully retracted.

 

One thing the TV-60 does share with the Ranger is its helical focusing system. The helical focuser sits on the end of a finely-machined draw-tube held in place by a locking screw. You get coarse focus with the draw-tube, then fine adjustment with the helical focuser. The focuser works by a twisting a brass ring with rubber grip, which extends and retracts the 1.25” focuser tube. It is super-smooth and precise, almost at the level of a micro-focuser, with no play or shift, but has short-travel. This sometimes means you swap to a longer focal length eyepiece, reach the end of the helical travel, twist it back in, refocus with the drawtube and finally twist back out to achieve perfect focus again: a bit more hassle than with a conventional focuser.

 

People either seem to like or loathe this system – personally I like it a lot. However, there are a couple of disadvantages. For one thing, it is 1.25” only. This is irrelevant for visual use in my opinion (the TV-60’s maximum 4.3 degree field is enough for most purposes). However, it limits the TV-60’s use as an astro-graph. More annoyingly, I found that the focuser grease hardens up on cold nights making it stiff to turn.

 

Mounting

 

In order to save weight, the TV-60 has kept the mounting bar from the Ranger. This allows you to adjust the balance point, but avoids the weight of a ring. The bar carries three ¼-20 threads – two with the standard Tele Vue spacing for their mount heads and a central one for photo tripods.

 

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You can take the TV-60 places you wouldn’t a bigger scope.

 

The TV-60 is so short and light that it will go on just about any tripod with a panning head. Tele Vue’s own TelePod tripod and mount – quite flawed with bigger scopes – works superbly with the TV-60. You really can grab the whole lot with one hand, then just walk out and use it. In Switzerland, I would pick up the little TV-60 in its case with eyepieces and diagonal already packed, put a photo tripod in a little backpack and go hiking for an hour up to a dark site amongst the terraced vineyards. I wouldn’t have done that with a larger scope, even a TV-76.

 

The TV-60 is quite simply as portable as a telescope gets and to reflect this Tele Vue provide a fitted case (at extra cost) that takes the OTA, a diagonal and a couple of eyepieces; all of which weighs just a couple of kilos and is the size of a small handbag.

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With a pen for scale you can see how compact the TV-60 is, nestling in its optional soft case.

 

In Use - Daytime

 

So the TV60 has been designed to be the perfect ultra-light travel scope that will do everything: spotting, birding, quick looks at the Moon and bright deep sky objects, even planets at a pinch. Does it succeed? The answer is that it does. In fact, if you accept the limitations of a 60mm aperture, the TV60 is close to perfect.

 

During the day it makes a fantastic spotting scope, coming close to the top of my rankings for chromatic aberration on high-contrast terrestrial targets.

 

In Use – the Night Sky

 

Cool Down

 

Under the night sky things just get better. This scope needs virtually no cool-down time, which is a huge bonus for grab-and-go. You can use the TV-60 straight from a warm house.

 

Star Test

 

The star-test is really excellent on my example, better than on any other Tele Vue I have seen and again shows virtually no out-of-focus colour. Diffraction rings are virtually identical either side of focus.

 

Usability

 

The draw-tube/helical focuser provides coarse/fine focusing so you never feel the need for a micro-focuser the way you do with the TV-76. The TV-60 doesn’t take 2 inch eyepieces, but with a focal length of just 360mm (F6), it simply doesn’t need them. Finder? No, you won’t need one of those either. Using a photo tripod or the TelePod you can always get a perfectly comfortable viewing position simply by raising or lowering the central post (so that’s why the TelePod tripod is built that way!). The TelePod mount works smoothly with the TV-60: none of the balance and stiction problems you get with heavier scopes.

 

Even at home, the great thing about the TV-60/TelePod is supreme portability that lets you pick it up and move it to the most inaccessible part of the house or garden to sneak a peek at a fox in the field across the way, or the moon when it’s low and behind trees from every other position. This is what makes the TV-60 get used so much, for me at least.

 

TV-60 plus TelePod – ultra portability.

 

Let’s not over-egg the pudding here. I mean this is still a tiny scope and you would probably get bored after an hour or so of viewing, because it’s limited in what it can show, especially without a few premium eyepieces. A few basic Plossls will give a fair bit of detail on the Moon and nice views of clusters and bright nebulae, but one of the only real disadvantages of the TV-60 is that you will need Naglers or similar to get the high powers of which it is capable for the Moon and planets. The bloke I bought it from had been using cheap Plossls with the TV-60 and was amazed when I plugged in a 3.5mm Type 6 Nagler and turned the TV-60 on Saturn. “I didn’t even know it could do that!” he said, suddenly reluctant to sell …

 

The Moon

 

Like any small scope the Moon is the TV-60’s favourite target. It will take up to 142x with a 2.5mm Nagler on steady nights and shows a level of detail that might surprise users of much larger but more optically-compromised telescopes. The TV-60 shows no chromatic aberration on the Moon – just greys and whites and buffs. On nights when the seeing is poor, you notice and appreciate the lower level of boiling that a smaller aperture delivers.

 

That said, this aperture is never as involving as the next class up and fails to show all but the most obvious rilles, doesn’t get you into that Lunar Orbiter closeness that a 4” APO does. But 4” APO performance simply isn’t possible at this compact size.

 

A point of interest here: you might think that a perfect 3.5” Maksutov (a Questar for example) would deliver better performance in a similarly compact package. However, I recently tested a 60mm APO alongside a Questar and found that though the Questar did offer up a bit more detail on the Moon, the view was somehow less pleasing. Overall, I felt the performance was very similar, with different strengths and weaknesses on both sides.

 

Planets

 

Getting planetary magnification is the main challenge with the TV-60. I often use the TV-60 with just two eyepieces (which fit perfectly in the case): a 25mm Plossl for wide fields and finding and a 3-6mm Nagler Zoom for the Moon and planets. The Nagler zoom is an ideal addition to this scope.

 

With the 3-6mm zoom you can get up to 120x, which the optics are quite good enough to take (unlike any prismatic spotting scope, terrestrial users take note). With a 2-4mm zoom or Nagler 2.5mm you can go further, but of course these are an expensive luxury, especially if your other scope is an SCT in which they are useless.

 

At these magnifications there is still no chromatic aberration and planetary views are surprisingly good. Jupiter can be an engrossing sight with multiple belts, the polar hoods and the largest dark storms visible. Shadow transits are possible with the TV-60.

 

Mars surprises by yielding its polar caps and perhaps a hint of albedo detail near opposition.

 

Saturn is another surprisingly satisfying target for the TV-60. Unlike the vague and fuzzy image delivered by a 70mm Mak’ I tried, the TV-60 gives a very sharply-defined view of Saturn, with the ring shadow and (perhaps!) the Cassini Division visible on good nights.

 

Deep Sky

 

This of course is where the limitations of a 60mm aperture start to show. Even a 76mm has 60% more light gathering power, so the TV-60 is frankly a bit dim on many DSOs. You can see most of the Messier Catalogue, of course, but few show the detail they can with larger apertures. For example, M13 remains a dim smudge in the TV-60, whereas even a 4” starts to show myriads of stars in its outer regions. Similarly, objects like the Dumbbell, Ring and Crab nebulae remain faint smudges as in large binoculars.

 

However, the Orion Nebula is still a spectacular view and open clusters are superb in the TV-60, with the intense contrast between brilliant stars and velvety black space that I so love with APOs.

 

Summary

 

I’ve heard it said many times that a telescope should be a long white object. If so, the TV-60 fails spectacularly; but in every other respect it’s a great success. Yes it’s expensive, but the design is thoughtful, the build quality superb and rugged, the optics perfect.

 

So is there anything negative about the TV-60? In truth, not much. The main limitation is just its small aperture – although the views are always top quality, they just aren’t as detailed and involving as they are with larger scopes.

 

So I wouldn’t recommend this (or any other 60mm scope) for a beginner or as your only telescope – it’s just too limited.

 

I should also point out that the TV-60 can challenge some eyepieces and needs expensive designs to yield the high powers it can cope with. This is not a fault, just a product of its short focal length and ratio. Naglers offer an almost perfectly flat field in the TV-60, but some other eyepieces don’t. In particular the Pentax XW 14mm was rather unpleasant in the TV-60 – this was a problem with the Pentax, not the Tele Vue. If you stick to Tele Vue’s own eyepieces you won’t go wrong.

 

My only other complaint is that the grease in the focuser can get very stiff on cold nights. Oh, and the sticker on the side of the TV60 isn’t as classy as the name plate on the TV-76, but I’m really nit-picking now.

 

Overall then, if you want a premium grab-and-go scope that can be used when otherwise you’d only have time for binos, or a true travel scope that you’ll never feel intimidated about taking along on that trip, then the TV-60 is your scope: small, beautifully made and optically perfect.

 

The TV-60 is highly recommended, but probably not as your only scope, unless you have no choice but to go super-portable, as I did whilst living abroad.