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REVIEW: William Optics FLT132 Apo Triplet


William Optics FLT132 Apo Triplet with optional 7x50 finderscope and bracket on EQ6 mount.
It's a BIG scope- for scale the focusser holds a 2" diagonal and 41mm Televue Panoptic eyepiece.


Getting My First Apo

I recently received my William Optics FLT132 apochromatic triplet refractor. I had never actually looked through any apo prior to receiving it, not even the newer and less expensive ED doublets sold by companies such as Orion and Skywatcher. I had heard nothing but good things about premium apos, but was hesitant to buy one due to their high price. The combination of extremely high grade glass and multiple precision ground lenses is considered to produce the highest quality image available, and doesn't come cheap.

I attended the grand re-opening of Perceptor telescopes in Schomberg Ontario at the beginning of 2007. They had most of the telescopes in the William Optics lineup on display, including one FLT132 that was allready promised to a customer. I was impressed with the quality of the parts and finish while I inspected the OTA in the showroom. After a few weeks of mulling it over, I placed an order for an FLT132 on February 24th.

I was present at the store on May 23 when the telescope arrived in it's shipping container. Apparently there had been a prior occurence of something piercing the carton and damaging the telescope's hardshell case during shipping, so they had taken steps to prevent this from happening again. The hardshell case was placed in a cardboard box, placed inside a second box, then surrounded by a layer of thick foam slabs on the bottom and what appeared to be intact but empty OTA ring boxes all the way around inside a third box. This appeared to work well, as the layers of protective cardboard left the case unmarked.

Upon opening the hardshell case, I became aware of several minor issues related to the telescopes condition. There was a smear of black ? on the outside of the dewshield that didn't come off with the wipe of a hand. There was also a surprising amount of dust particles both on the outside and inside of the main objective lense assembly, and an included promotional sticker with the W.O. logo on it was cut off-center and missing a piece. The black ? on the dewshield came off at home with a lot of gentle rubbing with a damp cloth to reveal a scratch in the paint that didn't go all the way down to the bare metal.

I have been in contact with William Optics regarding these issues. They have sent replacement stickers to the dealer for me, and have sent me detailed instructions for removing and cleaning the objective lense but said to do it only when the dust begins to affect the image, and added that they could not be responsible for any damage caused to the telescope if I performed this. I won't be in any rush to clean the lense just yet, but I'll let them know if it becomes necessary before I do it. As far as the scratch on the dewshield goes, it isn't really noticable unless you know it is there and look for it since I cleaned the black ? from it, and I am not too concerned with it unless the paint starts to peel or crack in that spot in the future.

In any event, I have sent photos of the marked dewshield, dusty lense, and "most of" a sticker to William Optics. I'm sure if any problems arise with the dewshield they will take steps to address it. Perhaps this is an isolated incident and I don't really like to sound like a whiner but considering the price of this FINE instrument, I was a little disappointed at the apparent lack of commitment on individuals somewhere down the line to both the company, their product and the customer.

Specifications

APERTURE: 132mm (5.2")
FOCAL RATIO: F7
FOCAL LENGTH: 925mm
OBJECTIVE TYPE: 3 elements, air spaced, FPL-53 glass
RESOLVING POWER: 0.86"
LIMITING MAGNITUDE: 14.5
FOCUSSER: 4" rack and pinion heavy duty focusser, 360 rotatable graduated, 1.25" adapter with compression rings.
TUBE DIAMETER: 141mm
CASE DIMENSIONS: 99cm x 34cm x 30cm


Inspecting The Telescope

The included hardshell case is solid and attractive. There is one suitcase style handle on the top center, as well as a folding recessed latch handle on one end with wheels on the other. The small hard wheels don't take bumps well, but they do roll smoothly across asphalt or the long hallway to the elevator in my building. The finish is black with aluminum angle iron along every edge, and steel corner caps on every corner. The thick foam inside is cut to hold the OTA with the mounting rings and William Optics optional Vixen style mounting plate installed, with room for a 2" diagonal cut out if you want to leave it in the focusser as well.

If I had to describe this telescope using only one word, it would be "impressive". The paint on the OTA is not smooth and glossy, but has the feel of sand-blasted metal that has been painted over. It is quite attractive, and doesn't reflect light or show fingerprints like most OTAs would. The black focusser and gold accent really compliment it well. This telescope is also available with a white focusser, but the drawtube inside it is black.

I also purchased the optional "true image" (my words, not theirs) 7x50 illuminated finderscope. Unlike most regular or some right angle finderscopes, the image is not inverted or mirrored-everything is oriented correctly like in a pair of binoculars. The finish of the finderscope matches that of the main OTA. It has a quick release one-screw mount, and can be mounted on either side of the telescope. A small mounting block attaches permanently to the telescope, and the finderscope holder bracket slides in and is tightened with a thumbscrew. The finderscope is aimed by adjusting the 2 sets of 3 screws that suspend it in the bracket. The correctly oriented view through the finderscope made star hopping to hard-to-locate objects a lot easier.

The finderscope has standard crosshairs in it, but they can also be illuminated. The unit includes 2 switch/LED assemblies (with one set of batteries) that screw into the side of the finderscope-one with a push on/push off switch, and the other with a rotary switch control. I tried both the illuminator assemblies and found that the brightness of the LED could not be varied, even with the rotary switch control. I found it to be a little bright after viewing in the dark, so I will probably not use that feature much.


LEFT: FLT132 inside it's included case. RIGHT: 7x50 finderscope and quick release bracket.

The sliding dew shield is an interesting feature. The telescope looks short inside it's case with the focusser racked in and the dewshield retracted, but the dewshield slides out about 6" with very little wobble when fully extended. This feature makes the overall size of the OTA and case a little more convenient for storage and transport.

The large 4" focusser accepts 2" or 1.25" eyepieces using the supplied adapter and is a little stiffer than most (probably due to it's large size) but still turns smoothly with no backlash. The larger wheel controls the main focus, and the gold knob in the center of the right hand knob is the fine focus. This control turned very easily and didn't slip or backlash with the accessories I had on it, and made it easy to achieve optimum focus with it's long yet precise adjustment. The end of the drawtube can be rotated by loosening the flat silver knob visible on the aluminum ring at the end of it, and tightening it once you rotate the barrel to the desired position. It is not a rotating focusser (only the rings at the end of the drawtube rotate), but this would still come in handy when using heavy accessories such as a digital camera.

The drawtube is graduated giving both metric and imperial lengths for how far out it is racked. This would be great for imaging, as with a little use you will know how far out it has to be racked for specific objects (Moon, planets, deep space) using different cameras, imagers, and accessories.


LEFT: Close-up of focusser with 2" diagonal and 41mm Panoptic eyepiece.
RIGHT: Graduated 4" focusser drawtube with finder mounting block beside logo.

I tried the optional Vixen style mounting plate, but it didn't fit into my EQ6 mount properly. The EQ6 uses a Celestron/Synta style dovetail with a side profile shaped like the bottom of a triangle that has been cut off. The dovetail profile on the Vixen style plate has an extra section on the bottom of it with a raised lip on either edge, and wouldn't fit snuggly in my mount. I liked the extra support the plate offered as opposed to a dovetail bar with only 2 mounting screws, so I made my own. I took a standard Synta dovetail and a piece of flat aluminum about 12"x4"x.25". I drilled and countersunk holes into the aluminum plate, and screwed it to the dovetail using the holes I tapped into it using hardened industrial machine screws. I ended up cutting the length of it down to 7.25" to match the dimensions of the plate William Optics has. I was going to leave it longer for stability, but it would have interfered with retracting the dewcap and fitting the scope in the case. I sand blasted it and coated it with primer and Phantom Black paint (used for Mercury outboard boat engines).

I've never had any problems with stability when putting my 10" Newtonian or my 6" refractor on the EQ6. This scope was not only lighter ( 20 lbs. vs about 30 lbs.), but shorter than either of them as well, so it was not only smooth and easy to aim, but also rock solid when locked down. Furthermore, using the finderscope or the Telrad I will be mounting on it will place me closer to the mount than with my other large telescopes due to the shorter overall length. This might not sound signifigant, but it's a real stretch with my 6" refractor trying to look through the finderscope while tightening the clutches.

First Use In Town

I took the telescope out for a short session in town on May 28. By the time we started viewing Mercury was down in the haze. The thick layer of smog near the horizon was creating an image that was blue on top, white in the middle, and orangish on the bottom, but at 154X the cresent phase was clear.

Next came Venus, which was considerably higher. At 154X the near-quarter phase was so clear and clean that I didn't need any kind of filter at all, which I think is amazing compared to the views I get through either of my other planetary refractors. I decided to give the 3mm Radian a try, and at 308X it was a little dimmer, but just as clean.

Then came Saturn. My first look was at 154X, and can best be described by my exact words at the time- HOLY [bleep]! I couldn't believe how clear the image was, and the subtle colours of the planet's disc I had never seen before visually. Cassini's Division and the ring's shadow were there as plain as day. It still wasn't totally dark, but unless one of them was a star I could see 4 moons-three on one side and one on the other (Titan was outside the field of view). I took another look at 308X, but it was a little too much with the haze in the air.

Next was the good old Moon. I never actually used a magnification low enough to fit the whole Moon in the field of view, as my intent was to test the optics at higher powers. At 154X with a variable polarizer adjusted to kill the brightness it was breathtaking. Mountains and rilles were so defined they almost looked 3-dimensional. Small craters that appeared as black dots in my other refractors turned into black holes with rims around them.The contrasting shades of blue, grey and white looked like that old VHS movie does when you watch it on high resolution DVD. At 308X the waves of unsteady air were visible, but the image was still very clear and crisp in moments of good seeing.

I was really hoping to get a look at Jupiter, but it was too low on the horizon and looked like it was under boiling water. It was getting late and I had to work the next morning, so I decided to call it a night and wait for the first available dark sky opportunity to try the scope out again.

First Dark Sky Viewing


Enduring allergies and mosquitoes in anticipation of some dark sky viewing.

I went out for a viewing session Saturday June 9 with two friends near Fenelon Falls. The seeing wasn't perfect, but it did give me a chance to see how my new apo performed under a dark sky, which was about what I expected. The image was about as bright as anything I would see through my 6" F8 refractor, but the sharpness and contrast was a lot better. I could resolve a lot more stars in M13 than I could with the 6" achromat, and the colour contrast between the components of Albeiro came across nicely.

I looked at M51, and could see the double smudge as well as the haze connecting them, and occasionally I could make out a hint of the spiral structure- not bad for 5.2". M81 and M82 were very favourably placed, and I got one of the finest views of them I ever have. The structure of both showed up well, and M82 in particular revealed the more intricate parts of it's shape that fade towards the edges.I could also see another NGC galaxy just outside of the field of view.

Jupiter looked okay, but I think would have looked better if it was higher out of the muck and the seeing had been better. I could see the cloud bands quite clearly, but the image wasn't steady enough to put any real magnification on it without losing detail. Saturn was almost as nice as it was the first time I had the apo out, but not quite which is a good gauge of the seeing conditions that night. Still, it was the second best view of Saturn I have ever had visually.

Overall Impression Of The Scope

Aside from the minor issues with the telescope I discovered upon delivery, I am quite pleased with it so far. The views of the Moon and Saturn were breathtaking, and the colour contrast and resolution was top notch no matter what I looked at. The finish of the parts and the quality of the machining that went into this telescope make for a sturdy, attractive package- plus the carrying case is great.

I have a feeling that this telescope would reveal it's true potential through some serious imaging, be it wide field or planetary. I'm not expecting miracles with my meagre imaging equipment and lack of expertise, but I'll give it a shot this summer. I really would like to put this telescope in a viewing session with a few other apos to see how it stacks up against a Televue NP127, a TMB130, a Takahashi, etc. I would still like to get a larger telescope for deep sky viewing eventually, but I don't think I'll be needing any other large refractors for a while. If anything I would like to get a smaller apo refractor as a grab-and-go scope for short viewing sessions, as my other refractors aren't quite as attractive as they used to be now.

NOTE: As of late 2007, I am also the proud owner of both an FLT110 and Megrez 80 triplet (F600mm), along with a Celestron CG5 Advanced go-to and Vixen Portamount. The FLT132 is a wonderful piece of equipment, but is a bit of a brute to set up on the heavy EQ6 mount for anything short of a marathon viewing session in the summer. I honestly found it hard to enjoy my older achromat refractors after seeing such sharp optics as those in the FLT132, and decided to take the plunge when the Canadian dollar was worth $1.10 U.S.- I don't regret it one bit, especially during the colder Canadian winters when the time I can bear outside at night is considerably shortened. If I tried using the FLT132 in this weather, I would probably be too cold by the time I got it set up to want to do any viewing. This is where the Megrez 80 comes in handy, as it is light enough to carry the mount and telescope outside in one piece.



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