Tasco 4VTE 50x40mm “Asteroid” Review
I had a thing about Tasco telescopes as a kid because the camera shop in Welwyn Garden City, where I grew up, had a big window display full of Tasco products every Christmas. I had the Tasco catalogue and pored over it, memorising the specs of every telescope, every pair of binos.
My very first Tasco Christmas present was this one (or something very similar).
I reckon lots of future astronomers found one of these under the Christmas tree in the 1970s and 80s, so I thought I ought to get one and review it.
At A Glance
Tasco 4VTE ‘Asteroid’
Less than 1 Kg
Data from my own measurements!
What’s in the Box?
All Tascos of this era shared the yellow and black box design and came with a similar starter pack containing an introductory booklet evocatively titled ‘Worlds Beyond’, a solar system chart with some lurid (even in the 1970s very outdated) planetary artwork; and a Rand McNally Moon map that I pored over during the era of Apollo.
Both booklet and map were really good, even if that Moon map was setting up expectations the 4VTE would never live up to!
The booklet cleverly has pictures of bigger Tasco scopes to tempt you to upgrade; I eventually bullied mum into buying me the 3” equatorial refractor shown.
Similar yellow box and bumf came with every Tasco.
Love the artwork, but ‘Mars and its Canals’ in the 1970s!?
Tasco’s Rand McNally Moon map guided my childhood Apollo-era lunar explorations.
I eventually owned this Tasco 3” from the ‘Worlds Beyond’ booklet.
This 4” Tasco from ‘World Beyond’ was my dream scope … aged 12. Note the high prices quoted for big achromats like this back then.
Design and Build
In most ways this little telescope is typical of Japanese production from the late sixties through early eighties, from the enamelled white tube, cast focuser and lens cell to the black crinkle on the mount. If you’re of a certain age, these period features will likely invoke instant nostalgia.
Not all nostalgia is bad either, because the metal and glass construction is much more solid than the typical toy telescopes you can buy these days, that often feature plastic focusers (and sometimes plastic lenses too). I point that out because this is basically a toy. For example, it has fixed magnifications rather than interchangeable eyepieces and you can only view straight through.
The 40mm lens is small, but at least it’s glass and achromatic and has a light blue fluoride coating. It appears to be a cemented doublet achromat (no foil spacers). The length of the tube suggests the objective has a focal length of about 500mm, making it F12 or so. That should mean no false colour, but hold that thought …
There is a fixed eyepiece attached to a metal drawtube that allows magnification to be varied between 25x and 50x – sensible values for a 40mm scope. The eyepiece is probably single element - because the field of view is tiny. Despite the narrow field, the view also curves off very sharply. False colour is just terrible, even at 25x.
This situation left me puzzled. The objective looks proper, but the view is pretty horrid. So I disassembled it to see what’s going on. The focuser actually contains several lenses to achieve the multiple powers and an upright view, including (I think) some kind of barlow.
The crazy and sad thing is that with all of that removed and a decent plossl shoved in the back, the view is amazing – really sharp and virtually free of false colour. Even the original EP is much better on its own without the erector and barlow – still narrow of field, but perfectly sharp.
You can’t just permanently take out the redundant lenses either, because without them the tube is too long to get focus.
Such a shame, because with a simple Ramsden or Huygenian eyepiece – the types Tasco typically bundled with its larger models - this could have been a great little astro’ scope. That’s marketing for you – gotta have those multiple mags and terrestrial view! As I said, it’s basically a toy. I think they may have made an interchangeable eyepiece version – if so, it might be an interesting table-top classic.
Variable powers don’t improve the view.
Externally, the tube looks nice: hard white enamel, with a black focuser and cast cell held in by three chrome screws as usual.
Somebody threw in a baffle and half-heartedly spattered it with black spray paint. If you wanted to improve it, there’s plenty of shiny metal in there worth buying a can of matte black to cover.
The focuser has an enamelled metal body and chromed metal drawtube. It’s very well made. But the drawtube is too narrow even for 0.965” eyepieces, so no possibility of converting it.
Back in the day, all small Japanese refractors of this era had the same design of yoke mount with a couple of pivots to allow movement (you couldn’t call them bearings). Larger scopes had the black crinkle-finish yoke on a wooden tripod; here it’s a spindly chrome-legged table-top job. The legs are too short for astro’ use – you’d need to hang the eyepiece end off the table to get near the zenith.
I recently saw one for sale that had been enterprisingly modified to put the yoke on a photo tripod. The effort would have been better spent on a new focuser and a proper eyepiece.
The crinkle-black yoke mount is classic Tasco, but pretty wobbly.
In Use – Daytime
In the daytime the field is oh so dim and narrow with all that pointless optical gubbins (barlow and erector lens) left in; without them it’s sharp and good.
In Use – The Night Sky
General Observing Notes
The view is so dim, the field of view so narrow that I struggled to find much apart from the Moon. But in the Apollo-era of the late Sixties and early Seventies, what else would you be looking at?
Even with its standard variable power eyepiece, the 4VTE shows the basic features of our Moon – the major craters and seas. That’s likely more than a modern toy telescope that graces department store Christmas shelves. And that view of the Moon was enough to give me the astronomy bug, back when Moon rockets were launching and I could imagine Buzz and Neil among those fuzzy maria and craters.
I tried, but it’s just too dim, even for M42.
Despite those metal focuser knobs, this is no Takahashi, or even a Swift for that matter (no Tascos were). Nothing about the 4VTE is great, but here’s the thing: it’s a proper telescope and it works! It has glass lenses that gave a reasonable, if dim, view. It gives an upright image, so you can use it for terrestrial peeks too. For astronomy it really only gives usable views of the Moon, but you can see a few craters: as good a view as Galileo ever had, most probably.
As it is, it’s so limited that it’s mostly a display piece. But, oddly, the objective is so good you could modify this with a proper focuser and period Eps to make a wonderful little scope. It’s a job I’d like to do some day if I have time.
In the end, I expect lots of these went back in their box on Boxing Day, only to end up on Ebay in mint condition forty years later. But, like me, enough youngsters were doubtless inspired by a Christmas-day Moon, resting the little tripod on Dad’s car and warmed by a turkey dinner as a snowy dusk drew down and the fairy lights winked on in the houses around.
If like me you had a Tasco as a child (maybe as a Christmas present) and fondly remember the box and accessories, the style and excitement of it, but don’t want something big cluttering the house, this little scope is a perfect nostalgia piece, easily and cheaply found.