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Tasco Model 6TE-5 Review

‘Period re-enactment viewing’ is apparently a thing, or so I’ve read. So, what if the period you want to re-enact is the 1960s/70s and your broadsword of choice has ‘Tasco’ on the scabbard?

On the one hand, there’s Tasco’s table-top 4VTE: my first scope and an ideal compact nostalgia piece for fans of 1960s Tascos, but for the horrible variable-power eyepiece that makes it basically useless.

On the other hand, the full-sized 9TE-5 is a proper telescope and very usable, but it’s a big thing to have hanging about gathering dust if you only want to ‘re-enact’ with it occasionally.

What to do? One possibility is this, the Model 6TE-5. It’s much like a the 9TE-5, but the size of the 4VTE. Perfect for solo re-enactments, it looks great on top of your bookcase meanwhile.

(For me, re-enactments always start under the Christmas tree – both my childhood Tasco’s were Christmas presents – so apologies for the fairy light overload if you’re reading this in July).

At A Glance

Telescope

Tasco Model 6TE-5

Aperture

50mm

Focal Length

600mm

Focal Ratio

F12

Length

58cm

Weight

~1.5kg incl. mount

 Data from Me.

What’s in the Box?

This is a slightly later box design (I think) than the yellow-and-black style my own childhood Tascos came in, possibly late 1970s?

Still, whatever the decade, it’s always Christmas on Planet Tasco ...

Design and Build

Tasco was founded in 1954 by a guy named George Rosenfield and was initially given the snappy name ‘Tanross Supply Company’, which eventually got shortened to Tasco.

The Tanross Supply Company began as a hardware and fishing tackle supplier, but started importing re-badged Japanese scopes from the late 1950s, probably as a response to burgeoning public interest in space following the launch of Sputnik. Those scopes varied from spy-glasses that were little more than toys (like the 1ETE) to ‘observatory class’ (back then) 4” refractors on driven pier-mounts, made by Royal Optical.

Staple models like this 6TE-5 had a long life, well into the 1980s, after which much more plasticky fare invaded the Tasco catalogue. The 6TE-5 doesn’t seem to have undergone the gradual decline in quality that beset some larger models, although the original 1960s metal focuser knobs did change to plastic at some point.

Tasco marketed several small refractors with a similar 1960s vibe. The 40mm 4VTE looks much the same, but as I mentioned above it has a fixed (!) variable-power eyepiece that gives the dimmest views (even though the objective is fine).

The 4VTE looks similar to the 6TE-5, but is a much more compromised scope.

Optics

The 6TE-5’s single-coated 50mm objective is an air-spaced Fraunhofer achromatic doublet of 600mm focal length giving F12. It’s no coincidence that F12 is the focal ratio above which simple eyepiece types work reasonably well and it’s a focal ratio shared by many small achromats of the era.

All Tascos originally carried a small sticker saying they’ve passed the ‘Japan Telescopes Institute Inspection’. This was silver and oval on earlier models, gold and round later.

Some OTAs also had another mysterious sticker with a two-letter code. On my larger 9TE-5 it reads ‘GJ’, on this 6TE-5 it’s ‘FN’. These may refer to the sub-contractors for the optics, which varied (Tasco was just an importer). If you know better, please drop me a line!

Just like the 60mm 9TE-5, the focuser label plate has a minuscule (so small I needed a magnifier to read it) Circle-T symbol in the bottom right corner, so on some level it was ‘made’ by Towa, a brand well-known for good optical quality.

Circle-T usually indicates good quality.

Tube

This OTA is classic 1960s Tasco: a white metal tube, with a black cast lens ring and in this case a white metal dew shield (unlike the larger 9TE-5’s which was black). I love that look – the black lens ring and contrasting white dew shield – perhaps because it features on various bits of Tasco bumf from that era.

At some point in the 1980s Tasco switched to similar models but with red tubes which I really don’t like (sorry), but that apparently evoke their own nostalgia in some younger collectors.

Focuser

The 0.965” focuser looks just like the plastic ones fitted to loads of cheap modern scopes on Ebay, but in fact here (as with the larger 9TE-5) it is made of cast metal and black enamelled, with a chromed metal draw-tube and rack.

The focusing action is smooth, precise and free of slop or image shift. Travel is a bit limited, but generally sufficient for both astronomy and terrestrial viewing with a useful range of eyepieces and magnifications.

Just about the only things on the whole telescope made of plastic are the focuser knobs. As I mentioned above, earlier 1960s examples would have sported cast and chromed metal knobs like some junior Takahashi (see the pic of the 4VTE above).

Mounting

Like other Tascos of the time – including my current 9TE-5 and the 3T-RB I owned in my early teens – the 6TE-5 has a yoke mount finished in nostalgia-invoking typewriter-crinkle black. Here, instead of a full-sized tripod, there are just three short, thin legs that fold inwards when you move the scope around. The legs and yoke make a table-top mount.

The altitude bearing is just two bolts which tighten into lugs permanently attached to the tube (so you can’t easily re-mount the OTA). Tension is adjusted with big and rather handsome chromed knobs. The azimuth bearing is a push fit with a lock screw.

Unlike the larger models, there is no slow-motion control here. To move the scope, you just push it up and down and around. On the bigger scopes the yoke mount doesn’t always work that well, but here it’s crude but quite adequate. The 6TE-5’s mount is a significant improvement on the 4VTE’s too.

Accessories

The 6TE-5 came with three eyepieces protected in rubbery black Tasco bolt cases with gold writing. All are of the fairly basic two-element Huygenian design, but they’re of decent quality, single coated and with metal bodies and real glass optics. Back in the day, we thought ourselves lucky they weren’t Ramsdens, dreamed of Kellners and whispered of Orthoscopics.

The focal lengths provided were 6mm, 12.5mm and 20mm. The latter two are sensible focal lengths, giving 48x and 30x respectively, whilst the 6mm giving 100x is a bit optimistic.

In special little containers were a grey neutral Moon filter and a red Sun filter. The latter was red for a reason and is much best left in its container.

Like all Tascos, the 6TE-5 came with a finder, in this case a truly miniature 4 x ~15mm. On a Celestron Travel Scope 50 today, miniature means useless, but not here. The finder itself has a metal body, coated glass lenses and a push-fit eyepiece to allow focusing. Its view is narrow but quite sharp and bright – well up to finding the things you’ll be looking at, like the Moon and bright planets. The finder mount and set screws are metal too, so it even keeps reasonable alignment.

Bumf

Tascos from the late 1960s into the early 1980s came with a long, pale green envelope containing an introductory booklet evocatively titled ‘A Key To Worlds Beyond’, a solar system chart with some lurid (even in the 1970s very outdated) planetary artwork, and an excellent Rand McNally Moon map that seemed such an exciting accessory for finding landing spots during the era of Apollo.

The original ‘Worlds Beyond’ booklet that shipped with larger (and/or earlier?) Tascos included some attractive images of their larger scopes to encourage you to nag your parents for an upgrade. But very interestingly (for Tasco geeks like me), the booklet shipped with the 6TE-5 is much thinner and omits those extra images (among other things).

As an aside, it seems the booklet and especially the maps have become more collectable than the scopes. Whilst trying to sell my 9TE-5 (for an extremely modest sum), I had messages asking for a precise condition report on the bumf as if I was Christie’s and they were penned by Michelangelo. Believe me, I get it. Who doesn’t want to travel to distant worlds the colour of boiled sweets with rainbow rings and fantasy landscapes from a 1970s kids’ TV show?

Tasco’s lurid and evocative 1960s bumf has huge nostalgia appeal.

Supplied eyepieces and diagonal are basic, but very usable.

In Use – Daytime

The little Tasco works quite well as a daytime spotter, giving sharp views, though the FOV is narrow (esp. with the standard eyepieces). The phone-snap below is taken with a Takahashi 25mm eyepiece, not the standard H20mm.

In Use – Observing the Night Sky

General Observing Notes

Despite their similarity, the 6TE-5’s mount has less play than 9TE-5’s and it is easier to adjust altitude tension with its knobs rather than screws. But vibes take 5-10 seconds to damp down with a 7mm eyepiece giving 86x and hamper finding best focus.

Star Test

The 6TE-5 showed a reasonable but not perfect star test on Aldebaran, though the in-focus Airy disk and diffraction rings looked pretty good. It’s not as good as the (really excellent) 9TE-5 I reviewed, though, despite both being Circle-T.

The Moon

All the main sights of a first quarter Moon were visible with a 7mm Takahashi Ortho’ giving 87x – major craters Tycho, Gassendi, Schiller and dark-floored Billy; Sinus Iridium with the weird ink-blot shadow of Promontory Laplace standing out in all the blazing sunshine around. Other lunar highlights included Alphonsus with its dark spots and the rugged arc of the Apennine mountains.

The Moon was nicely sharp at this magnification, though a steadier mount would have improved the view. Considering that 87x is well above typical spotting scope magnifications, the 6TE-5 is a good way to enjoy the Moon and as an Apollo-era relic that’s appropriate: pin that Rand McNally map up and go hunting for landing sites.

Mars

Surprisingly, the 6TE-5 delivered a clean, dark orange, gibbous disk with 7mm Ortho, even though Mars was well past opposition and only 8” in size.

Deep Sky

A long-focal-length 50mm single-coated objective at one end and a 0.965” eyepiece at the other doesn’t really make for a deep sky tool. Still, the entire of Orion’s belt just fitted into 25mm Takahashi Ortho’ and showed plenty of nebulosity, even in strong Moonlight. The Pleaides looked nice too – not the blue-misty diamonds you get with bigger apertures, but sharp and clear.

Summary

Whilst the larger 9TE-5 is a more competent all-rounder, this 6TE-5 is so much more compact (and easy to store and display too) that it’s going to be a better option for many looking for a period Tasco refractor. Compared to the apparently similar 4VTE it’s a far more genuinely usable telescope, with a good objective, a smooth and accurate focuser and a sensible set of eyepieces. Even the little fork mount and mini finder work quite well.

The 6TE-5 doesn’t (yet) command high prices, but does seem to be getting rarer and more sought after.

If you’re irrationally nostalgic for the Tasco you got under the tree circa 1971 then this 6TE-5 gets my highest recommendation – full fat 1960s Tasco for a fraction of the usual size and weight.

 

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