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Takahashi FC-60 Review

The FC-60 was the last of the original ‘FC’ line of Takahashi refractors to remain in production and was produced in small numbers from the Eighties to the Noughties. Takahashi have since rebooted the FC line, but with the notable absence of the FC-60, replacing it (eventually) with the much fancier FOA-60.

So what were the Tak’ FC series of small refractors? The range went from 50mm to 125mm. All were Steinheil fluorite-at-the-back doublets and have legendary performance, particularly for contrast. Unlike the modern FC series, all were designed first and foremost to be uncompromising planetary and lunar scopes, with large baffled tubes and slow optics by Canon/Optron as always.

Takahashi’s FC-60 has been a bit of a holy grail among classic scopes for me. I first read Ed Ting’s review twenty years ago and have wanted one ever since. Trouble is, the FC-60 has become so collectable in the U.S. that every time one appeared on Astromart someone beat me to it; meanwhile they almost never come up in Europe. Eventually, I took the risk and imported one from Japan – a multi-coated example (earliest ones weren’t) from 1990.

Here I’m going to test the FC-60 as a classic, comparing it with its contemporary, the Tele Vue Ranger; but I also compare it against the recent and optically sophisticated FOA-60 and FOA-60Q.

At A Glance

Telescope

Takahashi FC-60

Aperture

60mm

Focal Length

500mm

Focal Ratio

F8.3

Length

420mm w/o visual back (490mm with)

Weight

1.5Kg incl. clamshell

 Data from Tak/Me.

Design and Build

Compared to the luxury FOA-60 which has finally replaced it, the FC-60 is a typical ‘budget’ Takahashi: it has a fixed dewshield, a plastic objective cap and plastic imitations of the classic Tak’ silver focuser wheels (on which more below). Otherwise it’s a typical Takahashi of its generation, which is to say I love it: lime green cast focuser and lens ring, a diamond white tube and ‘Fluorite’ emblazoned on the dewshield.

Colours

A note on Takahashi focuser and accessory paint colours is in order, since the FC-60 spanned various shades over its production life and it’s worth knowing what’s original and what isn’t. Some of the possibilities include:

·        The shade of lime green you see on the FC-60 here. For many years this was the Takahashi colour and is the most common FC-60 accent colour

·        In around 2016 Tak’ switched to a bluer shade, in a move that meant my PM-SP mount has an annoying combination of the two (see below). The FC-60 never came in this colour

·        Traditional black graced the earliest Taks, like the TS-65 and some FC-65s, but not the FC-60. It’s a colour which has re-surfaced in recent special editions like the FC-100DL and some FS-60s

·        Blue-grey, often seen in earlier triplet models like the FCT-76 and the FC-50 too. Possibly found on some early FC-60s also

·        Metallic blue is sometimes found on larger early FCs, but not the FC-60, as far as I know

Some Taks can have silver (recent FCs) or gloss blue (later FS series) accents for the lens ring and cap. But not on the FC-60, whose lens ring and focuser always matched colour.

Three long-f 60mm Takahashis, top to bottom: FOA-60 (without Q module), FS-60Q, FC-60.

Optics

The FC-60 has a Canon/Optron foil-spaced doublet with the fluorite at the back in a Steinheil configuration. To check that it really is fluorite, I did a laser test (see below): fluorite doesn’t scatter light, so disappears, unlike the glass (the bright spots are scatter from air-glass and air-fluorite surfaces).

The non-adjustable lens cell has the old Tak’ standard of green writing around the edge telling you the aperture (60mm) and focal length (500mm), which gives F8.3. The otherwise similar FC-50 has an adjustable cell in a tube that differs only in length. I have no idea why the FC-50 got an adjustable cell but the FC-60 did not.

Those green letters also state ‘MC’ which means multi-coated. Shine a light in and the lens does look very transparent in the way fluorite doublets do. However, the coatings have a bluish hue compared with the tobacco-colour of the latest on the FOA-60 and this does I think yield a slightly warmer tone to the image that is apparent on the Moon.

The fluorite element at the back is uncoated, as it was on all the original FCs (one of the reasons for adopting a fluorite-at-the-back design was that fluorite degrades with water; fluorite and dew don’t mix).

Arguments over which doublet design is better – Steinheil with fluorite at the back or Fraunhofer with fluorite at the front - will continue and I’ve written enough about the subject elsewhere. See my article on fluorite if you’re interested.

Laser test confirms the FC-60 is a Steinheil fluorite doublet.

Tube

Whereas the FS-60 has an 80mm tube, the FC-60 shares its slimmer 68mm one with the its modern replacement the FOA-60.

Compared to the FOA-60, the FC-60 has one big advantage: weight. At just 1.5Kg including its clamshell, the FC-60 is exactly the same weight as an FS-60C and almost half a kilo’ lighter than the FOA. For further context, it’s also the same weight as the contemporary Tele Vue Ranger, despite being much longer. This has a huge advantage – on the Teegul it’s a super-light and easy grab-and-go package; it doesn’t even need a counter-weight.

Typical of older Takahashis, the FC-60 has three knife-edge baffles in its tube for maximum contrast. By contrast, the FOA-60 has only the one.

FC-60 focuser has lots of travel, standard 0.965” visual back.

The 0.965” visual back is covered with a plastic cap.

Focuser

I have experienced a couple of pretty bad Takahashi focusers over the years – one on a Sky-90, the other on an FS-60 (though another FS-60 I owned more recently was fine) – but that’s far from typical and was probably due to wear from use with heavy cameras, or perhaps just user fiddling.

However, though the little focuser on this FC-60 is thirty years old it is just perfect: oily smooth and precise, completely free of image shift and with just the right feel and weight. Make no mistake, Tak’ cast focusers like this have a smoother feel than many a modern CNC unit.

The FC-60 came as standard with a 0.965” visual back and a matching prism diagonal, both terminated with twist-locks. The 0.965” VB is protected with a screw-on cover typical of Tak’s from that era.

A larger-focuser was offered on some later FC-60s: the FC-60NZ was an imaging-friendly version with a focuser derived from the FC-76:

Stock photo.

Another interesting point for Takophiles is the focuser knobs. On this FC-60 they’re plastic imitations of the heavy anodised knobs typical of high-end Takahashis. I’ve seen these plastic knobs on various small Taks, including an FS-78 and an FS-60. I think the current FC-100DC may have them too. Strangely, not the FC-50 for some reason, as far as I can tell (from scrutinising pics online).

Another minor point is that these knobs are shinier than recent examples. I thought they were re-sprayed, but not so. Again, studying online photos suggests that they were produced like this for a while.

Takahashi focuser knobs, L to R: FC-60 plastic, modern plastic, anodised metal.

Mounting

The FC-60’s weight is as low as small refractors go this side of a few tiny Borgs: the same as a TV-60 or Ranger. It is a perfect match for mini-equatorials like Takahashi’s Teegul SP or more recent PM-SP, but is fine on small alt-az mounts like Vixen’s Mini or Mobile Portas too. A Vixen compatible dovetail with 35mm-spaced M8 threads is available, intended for the Mewlon 210 but ideal for all Tak’ clamshells.

The FC-60 will also mount successfully on a sturdy photo tripod with a fluid head. I used a light Berlebach tripod and Manfrotto 701RC head for this review.

I mounted the FC-60 atop my big and very stable AP1200 mount when imaging.

FC-60 mounted on recent PM-SP mount (note different colours). Shown with 0.965” visual back and Tak’ diagonal.

FC-60 on a fluid photo head and light Berlebach tripod. Shown with 1.25” visual back.

Accessories

The standard 68mm tube ring can be substituted with a modern one for the FOA-60 (compare photos above).

The smaller FCs would have been fitted with Takahashi’s tiny 5x25 finder - an outstanding little optic, with properly baffled and blackened internals, a little helical focuser and a wide sharp field; like a smaller version of the usual 6x30.

Please note: though a modern standard Tak’ focuser ring mount was made for the 5x25 (smaller and shorter than the 6x30 holder, BTW), it doesn’t fit these older scopes: the base is too wide, the mounting holes and bolt threads too large.

The FC-60 came with a 0.965” visual back and a matching prism diagonal. Cute, but a severe limitation, or so I’d read. It’s not. For it turns out that the 0.965” eyepiece holder (usual Tak silver-ring compression type) threads off with a short extension tube and can be directly replaced with the 1.25” equivalent from an FS-60. Unlike the FOA-60 there is no 2” option, though (the otherwise-similar FOA focuser tube ends in a wide adapter to allow it use 2” accessories).

The FC-60 was likely supplied with 18mm and 17mm Takahashi MC Orthoscopic eyepieces.

Supplied Takahashi MC Orthoscopic 18mm and 7mm eyepieces.

Swapping the standard 0.965” visual back for a 1.25” one from an FS-60 or equiv.

In Use – Daytime

Waiting on a fellside for the planets to pop out in the dusk sky, I enjoyed using the FC-60 as a spotter. I viewed the brightly-lit power station across the bay; followed planes whizzing across the western sky; examined a farmhouse in the darkening valley below lit weirdly blue by unseen Christmas lights. A bright satellite slowly passed to the east and I followed that too. Wind turbines turned in silhouette against the sunset horizon.

I discovered that the FC-60 makes an outstanding spotter and birding scope – lightweight and steady on a photo head, quick to focus, it has a wide super-sharp field free of false colour even at 100x and beyond. Most telescopes I review are too heavy or likely too fragile for use in the field, but the FC-60 would work fine so long as you keep it dry.

My usual daytime shot of over-exposed branches is very revealing of false colour. The FC-60 shows just a trace of purple in unfocused parts of the view. This level of performance is close to a triplet super-apo:

In Use – Astrophotography

Allowing for its small image scale, the FC-60 takes an excellent image of the Moon at prime focus – sharp and detailed.

F8.3 sounds bad for deep sky imaging, but with modern camera sensors it’s workable and the 500mm focal length means a wide enough field for most things. You would at least need the 1.25” visual back to allow any form of imaging, though.

At ISO 3200 my Fuji X-Trans APS-C camera isn’t noisy but allows decent 60s subs of brighter subjects through the FC-60. Star images are tight and virtually free from nasty bloat and violet fringing. On an APS-C sensor, off-axis aberrations aren’t too bad without a flattener, but there’s not much point in full frame with 1.25”-only visual back.

FC-60 Moon (cropped) with Fuji X-Trans APS-C CSC.

Unprocessed sub of the Pleiades through the FC-60: 120s at ISO 3200 with Fuji X-Trans APS-C CSC.

In Use – The Night Sky

General Observing Notes

Mostly, with its low weight, fast cooldown and superb focuser, the FC-60 is a real pleasure to use.

Note that it does balance right at the focuser end of the tube, which can look a bit strange but is essential on the Teegul where otherwise the focus knobs would hit the RA housing. The Teegul and FC-60 were very closely designed together from this perspective – there’s just a mm or two in it.

False colour is generally absent. Focusing through the bright limb of a nearly full Moon – centre field to avoid eyepiece effects – produces the merest tint of gold and rose either side of focus through the FC-60. For comparison, a modern FOA-60Q alongside yields no trace of false colour.

Cool Down

Compared to the Mewlon reflector I was testing at the time, cool down is laughably rapid. Initially, from a warm house into a freezing November night, the FC-60 gives the Moon a halo of stray light, just the way a poor optic does. After ten minutes, space is inky black again, cool-down complete.

Star Test

The star test is excellent with just the usual trace of under-correction. In-focus diffraction pattern and Airy disk are text book perfect.

The Moon

I woke one frosty November morning to excellent (8-9) seeing and a last quarter Moon high in the sky just off the meridian, with Albategnius on the terminator. Skidding out onto my icy balcony, the FC-60 quickly gave a stunning view for such a tiny refractor.

A 3.5mm Nagler giving 143x showed loads of sharp detail along the terminator: Mons Piton, bathed in evening light; the craterlets like a string of beads along Rima Hyginus and nearby Rima Ariadaeus, black with shadow and running off into the darkness; Alphonsus with its offset central peak, dark patches and hummocky ridge; the Straight Wall and its odd arrow-head at one end; the slumped walls of Tycho in extraordinary detail. Clavius and its arc of craters.

On a different occasion, I’d been examining Mare Imbrium through the FOA-60Q at 180x with a 10mm Zeiss Abbe Ortho in the Zeiss 2x barlow. Surely the old FC-60 couldn’t take that kind of magnification? I swapped the Zeiss 10mm for a 6mm to give 167x in the FC-60 to see. The view was the same, sharp and full of subtle shading contrast where the bright rays met dark Mare lavas. I watched a star just off the limb in absolutely black space.

The shortest focal length eyepiece I have is a 2.5mm Nagler giving 200x in the FC-60. Amazingly, there is no softness or image breakdown at that mag, just a trace more false colour focusing through the limb and a slightly dimmer view. This was a real close-up encounter with the rugged craters of the Moon with none of the lilac wash suffered by the Tele Vue Ranger I was testing at the same time. The limb showed mountains silhouetted against black space as only the finest scopes can.

The FC-60 gives an extraordinarily beautiful high-power view of the Moon for such an old telescope, comparable with the state-of-the-art FOA-60Q alongside.

Planets

With the planets clustered low in the western dusk sky, I had to climb the local fell to see them. It was the first day of Advent and a silvery crescent Moon hung over a blood-orange dusk that reflected in cirrus above and bay beneath. It was brutally cold and my fingers numbed as night slowly fell on a crunchy fellside.

A brilliant, full-disk Venus boiled low to the horizon, with lots of false colour from the atmosphere (not the FC-60!) – blue and orange either side of the planet. Later in the cycle, Venus at much higher altitude (~18°) showed Venus at 100x as absolutely pure white, with not a trace of false colour, even out of focus.

Saturn, dimmer and later to pop out of the darkening sky, but at twice the altitude of Venus, looked much better. At 100x with a 5mm Nagler, I could see all the usual details with perfect sharpness – ring shadow, hints of a partial Cassini Division, polar hood and the planet partially obscured by the rings.

Jupiter was there somewhere, but too low to find let alone view.

A few days later, I’d been up since four thirty doing some imaging. I’d given up and was ready for breakfast when I noticed a red star climbing into the just-lightening eastern sky – Mars. Setting the FC-60 onto it I discovered decent seeing, though Mars was at 0nly 10° altitude and just 4” in size. With a 4mm Zeiss Abbe Ortho giving the crispest view at 125x, I waited for steady moments when Mars showed a perfect tiny orange disk with no softness or false colour.

Given the FC-60’s planetary bias, I will update this review once the planets return to the night sky and a better altitude.

Deep Sky

The FC-60 works as well as most 60mm refractors for deep sky, perhaps giving away only a little brightness to the FOA-60 with its latest multi-coatings on all elements. The Pleiades are sparkly and brilliant, with pinpoint stars across the whole field. The open clusters in Auriga show masses of stars, easier to pick out with averted vision. The Great Nebula (M42) in Orion reveals its extended arms and hints of structure in the central region.

But this is an area where the 60mm Takahashi with its uncoated fluorite gives quite a lot away to the 70mm (and fully coated) TV Ranger. The Tele Vue offers brighter DSO views and is the better scope if you like low-power Milky Way surfing.

At 143x with a T6 Nagler 3.5mm the Double Double (Epsilon Lyrae) was a perfect split on both components.

Summary

The FC-60 was once Takahashi’s entry-level budget scope, but has become something of a collectors’ item. It’s not hard to see why: no one makes anything quite like it today.

Today, small apochromatic refractors are designed for imaging, with hefty focusers and wide visual backs, short focal lengths and improved correction in the blue and violet. In contrast, the FC-60 is optimised for visual use, especially on the Moon and planets. Meanwhile, the doublet objective, slim tube, fixed dew-shield and 1.25”-only focuser make it very light-weight, rugged and easy to carry and mount.

Even with its tube ring, the FC-60 is as light as a tiny TV-60 or FS-60, but takes magnification better and gives even better Solar System views. An extra half kilo does make fellow Tak’ 60s like the FS-60Q or FOA-60 slightly more awkward to carry and mount. This effect is noticeable. The FC-60 needs no counterweight on the Teegul and is stable enough for high powers on just a basic photo head.

So true to legend, the FC-60 does make a wonderful super-light travel scope for the Solar System – for eclipses, but also for Mercury or the early days of a lunation. For someone with a big Dob’ or SCT it remains an ideal second scope for quick looks too.

The FC-60 remains the perfect small apochromat for visual use and travel, especially for the Solar System. I love it. It’s a classic and it deserves to be.

 

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