Downsizing to the Perfect Small Scope and Mount

Barry Kawa’s “big toys” archive photos from his years in Ohio. On the left is his 6″, f/10 achromatic refractor with equatorial mount on a tall, roll-out mount (looks like you can sleep on the tray!). The light bucket on the right (also on wheels) is a Coulter 17.5″ Dobsonian, nicknamed “The Other Woman.” Image © Barry Kawa with all rights reserved.
Barry Kawa,  a U.S. journalist now living in Japan, wrote a prior blog for us (Does it spark joy?) about the joy of collecting scopes and the task of paring down the collection to what gives him joy. You can read this post as a “part 2” for the phase of life when it’s time to go with just one scope and mount.

If you’ve read my “does it spark joy?” blog for Tele Vue, you know I’m trying to simplify.  That has led me to think about what would be my final scope and mount as I grow older.

Whether we move into a care facility or downsize and settle into a small but conveniently located apartment as my wife’s grandparents did, someday we may need to choose one portable scope and mount when we can no longer handle larger equipment.

I’ve had this thought in the back of my mind, as I mull my observing options for the future. A small scope atop a tabletop mount makes the most sense given its compact size for storage and the ease of setting it on a table even if just for a quick glance. Even in a hospital room, it would be possible to at least look at the Moon through the window.

I tried out a Borg 45mm ED for a while. It’s probably the tiniest OTA that was capable of giving sharp, color-free planetary views, albeit at a relatively low power. Its lack of weight, however, made it difficult to use on a tabletop mount with a counterweight; and 45mm is really not enough aperture for planetary observing, particularly for looking at Mars at opposition.

I hit on my “final” scope when I won an eBay auction of a brass Tele Vue Ranger (70mm, f/6.8). It is the little sister to my beloved brass Tele Vue Renaissance (101mm, f/5.5), and will be much less work to shine and polish the brass tube the rare times I feel so inclined to do so.

The Ranger is a beautiful scope to look at and easy to set up and use on my Tele Vue Tele-Pod mount. It weighs about 4-pounds, about a half-pound heavier than the listed weight of the standard Ranger, perhaps because of the heavier brass.

Tele Vue Ranger and Pronto advert 1996.

However, I soon started using two tabletop mounts that increased my enjoyment of the scope as well as the portability factor. I have two Vixen tabletop mounts that are seemingly rare in the U.S..  Vixen sold a variety of small OTAs on them, like an old 80mm Vixen Shuttle achromatic refractor and an orange-tube 80mm Newtonian. The Vixen mount has a small, thin counterweight so it easily accommodates the weight of the Ranger. It weighs about 4-pounds including its 1½ pound counterweight.

Tele Vue Brass Ranger on Vixen table-top mount. The mount does not match the beauty of the Ranger according to the author. Image © Barry Kawa with all rights reserved.

The Vixen tabletop mount has three thin, light metal legs that detach for storage in the bottom of the pillar, making for a very compact carrying unit. The combined counterweight/handle can also be unscrewed and detached from the mount if needed. I use the counterweight/handle to control and guide the scope. It’s a nice portable package when placed on the table. However, the Vixen Polaris mount colors don’t suit the classic lines of my Tele Vue scope. I thought someday I might even find a brass version to match my Ranger.

Tele Vue Brass Ranger on Orion table-top equatorial mount. The mount is heavy to lug around and the spindly legs limit the usable scope size. Image © Barry Kawa with all rights reserved.

Another tabletop mount in my arsenal is an Orion Mini-EQ mount with a motor drive and hand controller. It is great to have it as an option for looking at a planet or the Moon with tracking. The only drawback is that the counterweight makes it a little heavy to lug around; like trying to carry it on a train, since car trips are usually out of the question in Japan. With its bulky counterweight, the Mini-EQ alone weighs almost 10 pounds. So, it’s not something I would want to lug around with me.

The little metal legs are also a little spindly, though they make it relatively easy to break down and store the mount. It is rated to carry a load of up to 7-pounds, about right for a Ranger, but probably not stable enough for a Pronto. I was lucky enough to find mine in a Tokyo Craigslist ad, otherwise, I think shipping one from the States would have about doubled the cost of buying one! It’s a mount that I would use if I am having guests over and wanted to show them Jupiter or Saturn at high power and keep the planet centered in the field of view.

Recently on Twitter, I was in touch with Tele Vue. I was musing about seeing a rare Tele Vue Executive Mount on the Internet and was surprised to hear that the company still had some for sale!

Tele Vue Brass Ranger on the walnut wood Tele Vue Executive Mount. Fits, looks, and weighs just right! Image © Barry Kawa with all rights reserved.

As fast as I could whip out my credit card, I ordered one, even paying the extra for shipping to Japan. I admired the beautiful walnut tabletop mount when I removed it from the box, thinking it would be at home in any executive’s office and someday, would look good sitting in my nursing home room. Using the Executive Mount is simple since I was instantly familiar with Tele Vue mounts from owning and using my Tele Vue Gibraltar, Panoramic and Tele-Pod mounts. It’s easy to adjust the friction so the scope easily turns to keep a planet in the field of view, even at high power.

It’s the easiest of the mounts I own to attach the OTA, with the two studs in the balance-bar fitting naturally through the holes in the cradle and just a matter of tightening the lock knobs. By comparison, trying to put my Ranger on the other two mounts is more difficult trying to line up the hole with the mount, especially in the dark. The height of the Executive Mount is also lower and more comfortable than my other two mounts, which I find I need an adjustable height observing chair if I want to remain comfortably seated.

It’s also safe to carry outside to my small backyard all set up and ready to go. I have no worries about dropping it, with the scope plus mount weighing in at about 10 pounds in all.

In use, the Executive Mount is like using a Tele-Pod or Panoramic mount, except that it sits on a three-legged outdoor table.  The table is both sturdy and big enough to hold the mount plus my eyepiece case, which boosts the convenience factor.

Using a 40mm Plössl in the Ranger to turn it into a finder, I can quickly zero-in on Jupiter though it’s barely visible over my neighbor’s house. Just so you know, I wait for the lights to go off in the house before turning my scope towards Jupiter, otherwise it looks like I’m aimed perilously close to their upstairs rooms!

With my 4.8mm Nagler, it is easy to keep Jupiter in the field of view, and I marvel at the sharp and crisp view of the planet and its belts and could even easily see a moon transit.

After the lights go out for the evening, I head outside. It is easy to keep Jupiter in the field of view even at 100x with my 4.8mm Nagler. I marvel at the sharp, crisp view of the planet, its belts, and the easily seen moon transits. Even dropping in a 2.5mm Vixen SLV eyepiece at 192x, I can still comfortably nudge the Ranger along and follow Jupiter. It’s just as easy to carry my Ranger on the Executive Mount, along with my eyepiece case, back inside the house when I’m done for the night!

The Executive Mount is so nice, one thought did hit me; would it work with my Pronto? No luck. While the Pronto sits comfortably on the mount, it’s a tight squeeze and there is not enough clearance between the wood arms to be allow the focuser knobs to swing through. So, the Executive Mount will be solely dedicated to my Ranger, which I guess is why Tele Vue originally listed it under Ranger accessories.

The Executive Mount is a mount worthy of the brass Ranger. Although I could put my Ranger on either my Tele-Pod or Panoramic mounts, or even a couple of Vixen Porta mounts I have tucked away in storage, it’s going to stay on the Executive Mount.

When I’m out under the night sky with it, I know my search for my perfect “nursing home” scope has come to an end. Hopefully, though, that won’t become a reality for many more years!

All angles of Barry’s brass Ranger atop his Executive Mount. (Contact Tele Vue if interested in the mount.) Image © Barry Kawa with all rights reserved.

Barry Kawa is a longtime U.S. journalist now living in Japan and working as the slot editor for the Asia & Japan Watch digital newspaper of The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo.

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  • For help in decluttering telescope gear, read Barry’s Does it spark joy? guest Tele Vue blog post.
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