Takahashi FC-100DL Mini Review
Takahashi’s current four-inch fluorite doublet, the FC-100D, comes in four varieties of which this, the FC-100DL, is the rarest.
I haven’t been able to obtain one for a full review, but I spent a memorable evening comparing an FC-100DL with the FC-100DC in the company of two friends who are keen planetary and lunar observers. So I thought I would write up my findings here as the first in a new series of mini reviews, even though I can’t provide all my usual comprehensive tests and images.
A big thanks to Mike Hezzlewood and Paul Yates for letting me play with their toys and for allowing me to use their photos and sketches.
(Note that this was originally part of a combined review with the FC-100DC, but I’ve since completed a full review on the DC here).
At A Glance
Data from Takahashi.
Design and Build
The first FC-100D variants to market had the shorter focal length (F7.4) FC-100D objective in two different models, the FC-100DC and FC-100DF. They differ only in tube and focuser; the lens is the same. I’ve reviewed the FC-100DC here. Most recently, Takahashi brought out a new premium FC-100DZ model with an F8 objective incorporating a special flint element for the best possible correction at high powers, which I’ve also reviewed here.
So, what about the FC-100DL on review? It was a limited-edition version with an F9 lens in a similar fixed dew-shield OTA to the DF, with its larger focuser (originally in black, but traditional green for the second run). Takahashi only made about 100 units in the original run and presumably a similar number in the second. It was intended as a classic lunar-planetary scope, but has been effectively replaced by the DZ.
Laser test on the FC-100DC, showing the Steinheil fluorite-at-the-back design it shares with other FC-100D models (laser disappears in fluorite).
The first thing to understand is that the current FC-100D isn’t the same as the original FC-100. The clue is in the ‘D’. Confused? Read on, or skip this section if you know this stuff …
The original FC-100 was actually two generations back. Prior to the latest FC-100D, Takahashi’s 4” apochromat was the FS-102, an F8 fluorite doublet with a ‘conventional’ Fraunhofer design that put the fluorite element up front. The original FC-100 preceded the FS-102.
Unlike the FS-102, the original FC-100 was a Steinheil that put its fluorite in a protected position at the back. Back then, fluorite couldn’t easily be coated, so this made perfect sense – fluorite is quite fragile. Like the FS-102, the old FC-100 was an F8 optimised for visual use.
By comparison, the regular FC-100DC and DF are an F7.4 Steinheil optimised for digital imaging (hence the ‘D’), whilst the FC-100DL is an F9 intended primarily for visual use at high powers.
The reasons for Takahashi’s return to the FC-100’s Steinheil design (see laser test above) are unclear. Most likely it’s just to keep the fragile mineral away from dew and wiping at the back, even now it’s coated.
So, is it that the Steinheil design is better? There are certainly those who think so; but if so, why would Takahashi have returned to front-surface for the FOA-60, their ‘best corrected ever’ fluorite doublet?
In any case, fluorite doublets are found in some of my favourite scopes. Fluorite is a mineral and scatters less light than any glass (which is why anti-reflection coatings are made of fluorides). The simple design and low scatter make fluorite doublets especially transparent and sharp, something I think you can notice in critical viewing.
The old F8 FC-100 was pretty much free of false colour, so the FC-100DL should also be almost perfect in this respect. Even the FC-100DC had less false colour than I was expecting – just a trace more than the original FC-100.
You might think the FC-100DL is Takahashi’s last word on apochromatic 4” doublets, but check the crossings and spot diagram below for the newest (third and last) FC-100D variant, the FC-100DZ.
Lenses and aberrations (crossings and spot diagrams) for the FC-100DL and DZ compared.
The FC-100DL has the kind of simple but classy white-enamelled aluminium tube Takahashi have been using for years, except that these days the lens ring is silver rather than the green used for the original FC-100 (in the DL version that lens ring is longer too).
The original F8 FC-100 had a big tube for its aperture, but though the FC-100DL is 12.5cm longer and a kilo heavier than the FC-100DC, it is still lighter in weight than the old FC-100, despite its greater focal length.
The FC-100DL has the larger 2.7” focuser from the DF and DZ (originally derived from the Sky90) with more travel than the DC’s. Another small difference from the cheaper DC model is that those focuser wheels are the proper cast version, not the cheaper hollow plastic ones.
FC-100DL Focuser, based on the larger FC-100DF unit.
For the evening I spent with it, the FC-100DL was mounted on a Sky-Watcher AZ4, which was fine, although it did vibe a bit at really high powers. A medium sized equatorial like an HEQ5 would suit its high-power potential perfectly.
Like most Takahashi refractors, all the FC-100D variants come with a clamshell-type ring that has two M8 holes at 35mm spacing. The FC-100DL clamshell is longer than standard and is compatible with the GT-40 guidescope.
The finder is the excellent 6x30 that goes in a Tak’s own proprietary ring (you can get a black one to match the FC-100DL), or you could spec’ the larger 7x50 model with its optional illuminator.
In keeping with the ‘D for digital’ tag, there is a reducer and a flattener available for imaging, though you might prefer the faster DF or DZ for that role.
In Use – The Night Sky
General Observing Notes
I compared the FC-100DL side by side with an FC-100DC. Both scopes performed very well and were really very similar. In the end, it was critical observations of Jupiter that revealed any real difference.
Both fluorite doublets cooled quickly and had no trouble keeping up with temperature changes during the night.
Star tests were excellent on both. On a DC I’ve viewed with more recently, the star test was perfect.
Given that the three of us are keen Lunar observers, much of our night comparing the FC-100DC and FC-100DL was spent on the 6-day-old Moon between crescent and first quarter with lots of interesting craters and formations on the terminator. Most of the viewing was done with bino’d ~17mm Plossls giving between 150x-200x in barlowed binoviewers from Revelation, Baader and Denkmeier, with some wider views in a 6mm Tele Vue Ethos and critical high-power views with a 5mm Super Monocentric giving 148x in the DC and 180x in the DL.
The seeing varied from good to truly excellent (Mike is lucky with his seeing), allowing these fine refractors to reveal stunning detail.
Formations studied included:
Theophillus, Cyrillus and Catherina – a triplet of large craters and a favourite of mine since childhood observing sessions with my 3” Tasco. To the north of Theophilus lies Sinus Asperitatis and an area of extraordinarily rough terrain – hummocks and craterlets and blocks – presumably ejecta from Theophilus.
Nearby rilles Hypatia and Gutenberg and the Crater Madler, source of a bright ray that sweeps out across Mare Nectaris and seems to have deposited a bright patch in lava-flooded Daguerre.
Rimae Burg in the Lacus Mortis, with the strange scarp that forms a ‘v’ with it.
Posidonius and its rille system.
Strange keyhole-shaped Torricelli, it’s floor in inky darkness and the walls of the surrounding ghost crater picked out in the low sun.
Plinius (after Pliny the Elder, who died in the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii) and its unusual cratered central peak.
The eastern wall of Albategnius just catching the sun and looking like a twisted laurel wreath, or as Paul put it, a swarm of bees.
Curious Ritter and Sabine with their inner walls near the Apollo 11 landing site, ‘Tranquillity Base’.
I was astounded at the level of Lunar detail that these refractors delivered in fine seeing – enough to last a lifetime of exploring and sketching, just as Mike said.
In focus, I could find no difference between the FC-100DC and the FC-100DL when observing the Moon, except for the obvious difference in image scale for a given eyepiece, despite swapping back and forth between the two.
I did notice that at approaching 200x, when focusing through the lunar limb the F7.4 FC-100DC produced a trace of false colour, whilst the F9 FC-100DL remained colour-free.
On a recent session comparing various scopes on Mars at opposition, an FC-100DC gave excellent views of Mars at 160x with the 4mm setting of a Nagler Zoom: no false colour, softness or the red blur often found with ED doublets, just excellent contrast and albedo-marking detail. I have also had outstanding views of Mars with the DZ version, so I would expect the DL to be a great scope for Mars.
On a night of very good seeing quite close to an opposition, Jupiter yielded up an astounding level of detail for a 4” refractor – variations in the belts and small dark storms, a shadow transit and banding in the polar hoods. On the night, we all agreed that the FC-100DL revealed a touch more low-contrast detail.
Once again, I will leave it to Mike Hezzlewood’s sketching skills to demonstrate just how much planetary detail the FC-100DL can reveal on Jupiter:
Sketch of Jupiter by Mike Hezzlewood, combining observations with both FC-100DC and DL.
I was able to check out the deep sky abilities of an FC-100DL at a star party recently under very dark skies. I had fantastic views of the Veil, Swan and Rosette nebulae that showed more detail than a 4” refractor has any right to and that kept up well with my larger-aperture AP Traveler on the night. Meanwhile, Mike reports having seen the nebulosity around the Horsehead with the FC-100DC.
Certainly, the outstanding contrast of these fluorite doublets make for better deep sky scopes than you might think; the high optical quality throwing so much starlight into a narrow PSF must surely help too. Contrary to some popular opinion, the longer focal length of the DL variant doesn’t give dimmer deep sky views.
Mike reports resolving doubles down to their theoretical limits with his DC. A recent comparison session gave a perfect split of the Double Double at 160x, with bright and sharply defined Airy disks, black space between.
By extending the focal ratio by one and a half, the FC-100DL removes the last trace of false colour from the F7.4 models, to deliver just a touch more high-magnification, low-contrast detail for dedicated planetary observers and imagers, though the FC-100DC is already excellent on the planets and the differences are honestly very subtle.
However, the FC-100DL is longer and heavier and much less portable (no chance of getting the FC-100DL on plane).
Still, if you love the Moon and planets and don’t need to travel with it, I’d splash out for the FC-100DL if you can find one (or if not, the new FC-100DZ should prove a good compromise).
The FC-100DL is the most specialist FC-100D variant, but a very desirable planetary scope and something of a collectors’ item now.
FC-100DL and DC.