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Tele Vue TV-85 Review

The Astro Physics Traveler was my perfect travel apo’ in all but one respect – weight. Insanely compact in its case, it still needed a hefty mount which made it hard to travel with alone (my checked bag containing only the mount weighed 20 Kg). The Traveler was just too weighty for smaller alt-az mounts like the Vixen Porta.

Foolishly I sold the Traveler, thinking I might replace it with the lighter Stowaway. Ha ha. Yes, AP are making them again. Yes, I’ve been on the wait list since 2005 ... but the wrong list, as it turns out. Then there’s the Baader Travel Companion – similar spec, same Unobtanium. Meanwhile, most 100mm scopes are just too large to carry on board without disassembly (see photo below).

I was moaning about this to a friend. He shrugged and said, ‘Buy a TV-85’. So I did.

I went through a Tele Vue phase more than a decade ago, but somehow missed out on the 85mm version of TV’s ED doublet. So, in a fit of nostalgia, I rejected a new one and bought a completely mint and unused example from that era, with its classic chrome-tubed focuser.

Now it’s true that ED doublets, rare and exotic 15 years ago, are cheap and commonplace now. So is the TV-85 still relevant in an age of Chinese mass production? Let’s find out ...

TV-85 alongside Takahashi’s most compact 100mm, the FC-100DZ (dew shield retracted on both).

At A Glance

Telescope

TV-85

Aperture

85mm

Focal Length

600mm

Focal Ratio

F7.1

Length

485mm, 19” (case 600mm, 23.5”)

Weight

~3.2 Kg incl. ring no dovetail

 Data from TV/Me.

What’s in the Box?

Tele Vues come in a basic logoed crate, seen here with an NP-101.

Design and Build

Perhaps more than any other brand, Tele Vue scopes have a consistent design and finish that extends from early examples like the 1980s Oracle right up to the current range-topping NP-127: cream pebble-coat tubes, CNC rings and in-house focusers, slim sliding dew-shields and thread-on caps.

The TV-85 was introduced some twenty years back, along with the TV-76, to extend TV’s range into middle sizes, plugging the gap between the semi-apo’ Pronto and larger TV-101.

Today, the NP-101 and NP-127 retain the flat-field quadruplet optics of the original Genesis, whilst the TV-60, TV-76 and TV-85 all have ‘simple’ ED doublets (but see below). At one time, Tele Vue also made a 4” doublet, the TV-102, but it’s been discontinued for some time.

The TV-85 arguably hits the sweet spot in the range, explaining its popularity. Properly carry-on portable (unlike an NP-101), it nevertheless has usefully more light gathering, resolving power and image scale than the TV-76.

Styling, fit and finish are classic Tele Vue.

Optics

Now that Chinese-made ED doublets are ubiquitous, it’s easy to forget that Tele Vue pioneered them in their smaller scopes. Unlike earlier Tele Vue ED doublets, this has a proper ED glass crown paired with a regular flint of some type.

The TV-76 lens appeared to be of conventional design, with a small air space, and I assumed the TV-85 would be a scaled-up version of the same lens, but not so. Instead, the TV-85 adopts the lens design of the TV-102. The positive convex crown is at the front in Fraunhofer format as expected, but investigation with a laser suggests that there is a large air gap (1cm or more) between the elements – see photo below. This approach allows for better correction than a foil-spaced design.

However, I noticed something else interesting. ED glasses tend to have distinctive laser scatter levels and I happened to have a chunk of premium ED glass (Ohara S-FPL53) at hand – the one in a Sky-Watcher 120ED. The ED crown in the TV-85 scattered a lot more laser light than the one in the 120 ED, suggesting the stuff in the TV-85 is a cheaper glass, perhaps FPL-51? The TV-85 lens has similar false colour levels to the 120ED (perhaps even a little worse) despite its smaller aperture and large air gap. A lower grade of ED glass could explain why.

Whilst the TV-76 is fairly fast at F6.3, the TV-85’s 600mm focal length gives a slower F7.1. The now defunct TV-102 was much slower at F8.6. This increase of f-ratio with aperture simply reflects the reality that chromatic aberrations worsen with increasing aperture.

Despite being an older model, the lens coatings appear of the highest quality, with a very transparent greenish-blue hue, identical to recent Tele Vue eyepieces in fact.

Lens cell incorporates two knife-edge baffles to complement the usual flocking paper behind it.

TV-76 vs TV-85 (right): note the large spacer and air gap in the 85’s objective.

Laser test confirms the large air gap, suggests a lower grade crown than FPL-53.

Tube

Tele Vue’s OTAs have a unique style that I really like. In this case, the main tube is the same 3” diameter as the TV-76 (and Pronto before it), with the same textured ivory powder coat that looks great and is exceptionally durable. The focuser and lens cell/dew shield assembly are finished in a satin black powder coat with a finer texture (the earliest examples have gloss anodising).

Unlike the TV-76, the 85 gets a larger, flared lens cell to accommodate the bigger optic with its widely spaced elements.

The focuser threads on, but just like every other Tele Vue the lens cell is nudged into perfect collimation on the optical bench then held with hefty rivets (or possibly blinded screws). It makes for a very rugged telescope and I’ve seen small Tele Vues take substantial knocks without going out of collimation.

The lens cell assembly is built in one piece, much like a whole TV-60, with machined-in ridges and a baffle behind the lens. But the baffle-less tube itself is lined with the TV-usual blackened sandpaper. The dew shield is also lined with flocking material to kill stray light.

The TV-85 is remarkably compact, but not especially light weight at 3.2 Kg including the clamshell-style ring. Blame the robust construction. Even so, it’s lighter than most travel refractors in the 90-100mm range and as compact as the smallest (about the same size as an AP Stowaway).

Overall fit and finish is absolutely first rate.

Compact extending dew shield is a classic Tele Vue feature.

Focuser

This has an intermediate style of rack-and-pinion Tele Vue focuser, introduced in 2005. It retains the chromed drawtube and single speed of the original, but has twin lock screws that operate a lock ring within the focuser body, rather than the single, 12-o’clock screw and clamp-pad of the original. This gives better stability and resistance to slop under heavy loads (it’s rated to 2.3 Kg), but it is stiffer and a little less fluid in feel than the original.

From 2011, Tele Vue changed the focuser again. Latest versions have a different style of focuser body, a coated (rather than chromed) drawtube and a fine focus as standard. It’s similar to the focuser fitted to the larger imaging scopes (see example on an NP-127 below). Another difference from the original style of focuser is in the visual back. A 2” has always been standard, but in the chrome drawtube design it was bolted to the focuser tube. In the most recent version it’s integral, again for improved rigidity with heavy cameras or bino’s.

Personally, I do prefer the style of the chrome-drawtube focusers with those much-copied but still gorgeous twin ‘mag’ wheels, which is why I bought this one. However, the dual-speed version may be better for imagers (though I had no problems getting perfect focus with the single speed).

Travel is adequate at 60mm, so that a 55mm Plossl sharpens up in a 2” diagonal (just). But you’ll need an extension for imaging and some eyepiece/diagonal combinations might not come to focus.

Classic chrome-tube focuser has 60mm of travel.

Recent versions (post 2011) get a dual-speed focuser much like this one on an NP-127.

Mounting

The hefty CNC 3” ring (that also fits the TV-76) needs an Allen key to fit or remove, but can be tightened with a wing nut. The fittings were ferrous in the first versions, but more modern ones get the stainless Allen bolt and wing nut you see here.

The base of the ring has three ¼-20 threaded holes. The centre is for a photo head (it would need to be a big ‘un), the other two for direct attachment to a Tele Vue mount or a dovetail. Tele Vue’s own Vixen dovetail is super-compact and has the added convenience of replicating the threads on the clam, so you can transfer the TV-85 to a Tele Vue mount without removing it.

Most smaller mounts will take the TV-85, but not the very smallest: it’s compact but quite heavy. Among Tele Vue’s own mounts, at least a Panoramic is recommended. My Vixen SX2 takes it without a counterweight.

TV-85 is ultra-stable, needs no counterweight on a Vixen SX2.

Tele Vue’s own Panoramic (seen here with TV-76) is one of numerous smaller mount options for the TV-85.

Accessories

The carry-on soft case is standard and just a scaled version of the TV-76 version. It’s functional, with space for the ring and a diagonal, along with holes for various eyepiece sizes.

The TV-85 can be bought as a set with the clamshell, a 2” diagonal and a 20mm Plossl eyepiece; or as just the OTA in a case.

Tele Vue’s huge range of eyepieces hardly needs mentioning, likewise their premium mirror diagonals. But they produce a variety of other accessories, including a 0.8x reducer and a high-end red-dot finder called Starbeam that fits into one of the shallow dovetails on top of the ring. Alternatively, TV make a matching generic finder base.

Soft case is carry-on size and has plenty of space for accessories.

In Use – Daytime

I compared the TV-85 with a Takahashi FC-100 classic and FC-100DZ (both F8 fluorite doublets) on winter branches against a brilliant clear winter sky, all with 7mm Nagler giving 114x in both Takahashis and just 85x in the TV-85.

The DZ showed essentially no false colour in or out of focus. The FC-100 Classic showed just a trace either side, despite being a simple foil-spaced design. The TV-85 showed minor green and purple fringing on the branches either side of focus and in out of focus parts of the view.

This is not really a criticism of the TV-85: the TV-85 gives truly wonderful daytime views at spotting-scope magnifications and works surprisingly well as a terrestrial telephoto lens, with excellent full-frame coverage. What’s more, my usual branches shot shows very minor false colour.

TV-85 full-frame coverage is surprisingly good.

Branches show subdued false colour. Second is 100% crop of central area straight from the camera (no sharpening or processing).

In Use – Astrophotography

I had no trouble getting perfect live-view focus with the standard single speed focuser and found no evidence of slop or image shift. Big CCD cameras might benefit from the heftier imaging system focuser, but for my full-frame DSLR the standard setup works fine.

Across a full frame, stars elongate off-axis but vignetting is minor. Violet bloat is reasonable. Images on an APS-C chip should be decent, even without a reducer. I’d expect the TV-85 to make a decent imaging machine with the 0.8x reducer; I’ll update this review once I’ve acquired one.

Image scale is a bit small for the Moon, but still sharp and detailed.

Pleiades with TV-85: 60s at ISO 3200 Canon EOS 6D Mark II. Single frame, no processing.

In Use – Observing the Night Sky

General Observing Notes

After lots of observing with some larger refractors, the first thing that really hit me with the TV-85 is how easy it is to throw around the sky, quickly and easily moving from object to object. What’s more, that short OTA means the eyepiece is almost always in a convenient position, with no need to change tripod height. Combined with the quick cooldown, this makes the TV-85 a much easier tool for quick looks when you’re tired or have limited time. A bigger scope may show you more, but you’ll use it (a lot) less.

Past Tele Vues have annoyed me with their hard to thread and screechy dew caps, but maybe they changed something, because this TV-85’s is easy to get on and off and is mostly screech-free.

The focuser is typically excellent, with a smooth precise action and no slop or significant image shift. There’s enough travel to (just) bring a 55mm Plossl to focus. I found no need for a fine focuser for visual use.

The only negative point I noted was that the short dew shield fails to completely cut veiling flare when viewing around a bright Moon, despite all that flocking and baffling.

The TV-85 gives a maximum true field of 4.4° with a 55mm Plossl – about the same maximum field as a pair of 15x bino’s – but realistically you might want to stick with lighter 1.25” eyepieces in which case 2.6° is your maximum. That’s a bit narrow for star hopping – learn from my mistake and buy a finder at the outset! I’m a bit finder sceptic for small scopes, but at this focal length a finder starts to become useful.

Cool Down

Cooldown is rapid and benign, without the pinched optics or severe spherical aberration exhibited by some objectives. Don’t underestimate this for a travel or quick-look scope: some larger doublets and smaller (esp. air-spaced) triplets take much longer to cool. I put a Sky-Watcher 120 ED out to cool at the same time as the TV-85; half an hour later, I’d already completed a quick session with the TV-85 but the 120 ED was still pouring hot air from its visual back and giving mushy views.

Star Test

I’ve seen Tele Vues with just average star tests, but this is very good with almost identical, evenly illuminated rings either side. This optical excellence plays out in use, with exceptionally intense bright stars (near perfect optics like this throw more light into a narrow central region of the in-focus diffraction pattern).

The Moon

On a 13-day gibbous Moon, I noted craterlets and rilles in Gassendi, ruined Doppelmayer on the other side of Mare Humorum and nearby Rima Sirsalis. Further south, Baily was full of shadowed detail. Aristarchus showed its bright stripes and lots of landscape features on the plateau. Up north the interesting Gruithuisen domes stood out clear and explorable from Mare Imbrium. A last quarter Moon showed the slumps in Tycho’s walls and marvellous sunset views of the central peak’s shadow crossing the whole width of Alphonsus.

The TV-85 is moving into 4” territory with its detailed lunar views – significantly better for exploring than a 60mm refractor.

Mars

The only planet around at the time of this review, I’ll hopefully update this review as the others return to the night sky.

Mars at 13.5” and 200x with the 3mm setting of a 3-6 Nagler zoom looked perfectly sharp, with a touch of deep red false colour only outside focus, much like a large ED triplet (my TMB 175). The prominent albedo marking of Syrtis Major was very evident, the Martian disk sharply defined.

Just after Christmas 2020, with Mars reduced to just 10.8” and on a frosty evening with thin high cloud, the seeing steadied and the TV-85 again showed a pin-sharp gibbous Mars at 150x with a 4mm Zeiss Abbe Ortho’ and 200x with the 3mm Nagler Zoom. I felt the ZAO gave a slightly crisper, more contrasty view. A stripe of albedo markings were visible around the equator, including dark Mare Sirenum and the diffuse halo around Solis Lacus.

So the TV-85 gave great views of Mars in good seeing. However, in poor seeing that effect of deep red flaring off into the turbulence became worse, marring the view as the focus point shifted about. Again, this is typical of ED doublets.

Deep Sky

Tele Vues always seem to like the deep sky, so on a clear dark winter’s night just after New Year, I took the TV-85 on a thorough tour of brighter DSOs from my south-facing balcony.

I started with Hercules, already getting low in the west, for a look at the large globular cluster M13. With a Panoptic 19mm – my favourite deep sky eyepiece with the TV-85 – giving 32x, it showed up as bright diffuse ball, starting to resolve into a star cloud at the outer edges with averted vision. Another globular, M15 to the right of star Enif in Pegasus, was much smaller and less impressive though, still a fuzzy blob at this aperture.

Moving over to Lyra, the TV-85 gave me one of the best splits of the Double Double I’ve seen in a small scope – lots of black space between components in both systems at 150x with a Nagler Zoom set at 4mm. Nearby, the Ring Nebula showed why 3-4” refractors can work so well for deep sky: with enough aperture to show the ring easily with direct vision, but enough field (2° with that 19mm Panoptic) to give loads of context and every star in the field a perfect glitteringly brilliant pinpoint.

In the east, the Great Nebula in Orion (M42) revealed more structure in the inner nebula than through a 60-70mm scope and even hints of colour. The low power gave a wide flat field, encompassing much of Orion’s sword region but still easily splitting the main Trapezium stars. Likewise, Rigel was an easy split with its fainter companion floating clear of the main star’s brilliant Airy disk and diffraction rings at 150x.

A focal ratio of F7 is a nice compromise between speed (for imaging) and a natively flattish field which perfectly framed the glitteringly icy Pleiades, scintillating within misty blue nebulosity, to give a really stunning view of M45 at 32x. But left a bit in Taurus and the Crab Nebula M1, a supernova remnant, remained a dim fuzzy blob at any magnification.

The open clusters running up through Auriga – M35, M37, M36 and M38 – were resolved as starbursts with direct vision. The starfish (M36) and M35 were particularly lovely at this aperture.

The field is roomy enough to accommodate most of the huge Andromeda Galaxy and its companion, both of which looked excellent with the main galaxy showing its core brighter and more defined than through smaller scopes.

All things being equal, I prefer a 4” (100mm) aperture for deep sky, but most 4” class refractors are much larger and less wieldy. The TV-85 is a great compromise for compactness and ease of use with greater light grasp than a 3”.

TV-85 mounted in my dome for imaging.

Summary

Twenty years on, the TV-85 remains the perfect travel scope. It has enough aperture and good enough correction for most purposes, from deep sky imaging at remote sites though viewing eclipses and conjunctions; birding and nature viewing too. For me, a travel scope has to be pick-up-and-go, ideally with no disassembly required; the TV-85 is. What’s more, it is built to be highly rugged and I’ve personally seen accidents to prove it. Unlike a triplet, cool-down is very rapid, another great feature in a travel scope.

Optical quality is very high too. No, the TV-85 doesn’t have the near-perfect correction of a fluorite doublet or ED triplet of similar specs, but for most purposes it doesn’t miss it. One target it on which it might, though, is Mars. Like most ED doublets, the TV-85 gave Martian views with more red flare than say a Tak’ FC-76 or FC-100, esp. in poor seeing.

Still, if you want a properly portable, multi-purpose travel apo’ that’s compact and easy to mount and ready for lots of hard use, you just found it. And unlike most other ~90mm travel apo’s, the TV-85 is actually available and for a reasonable price (especially used).

The TV-85 is one of those iconic telescopes that still doesn’t really have a competitor: the available alternatives are mostly larger, heavier or both. My friend was right: if you’re plotting to prize a Stowaway from the clutches of a collector, just buy a TV-85.

As a rugged multi-purpose travel scope, or an all-round quick look scope, the TV-85 is highly recommended and remains hard to beat. With a reducer it should make a decent small imaging apo’ too.

 

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