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I recently bought an Askar FRA400 f/5.6 Quintuplet APO Astrograph. I couldn’t find much info about it in advance – the best was a thread on Cloudy Nights – so thought it might be useful to other folks to jot down some of my feedback. I’m happy to answer any specific questions or clarify any points written in this review.

 

One-line review
This is a great telescope that’s fun and easy to use, but with a few issues potential buyers should be aware of.

 

Background
I got into astroimaging a few years ago, using a Sky-Watcher Evostar 80ED DS-Pro and ASI1600 mono camera plus filters. I enjoyed it, but the arrival of a new baby took a lot of my time (and energy!) so I sold everything with the intention of coming back to the hobby a little later. Barely a year on and I was missing astroimaging a lot, so decided to get back into it, but this time trying to create a simpler set up that would get me imaging on a clear night with the minimum of hassle.

I bought a William Optics Zenithstar 73 II APO 2019 with reducer / flattener, but had terrible issues with streaky corner stars due to backfocus problems. I tried a few things with the help of FLO (great customer support, of course) but in the end returned the telescope as it looked like I’d gotten a duff one. Luckily, at this time FLO started stocking Askar FRA400 f/5.6 Quintuplet APO Astrographs. Its Petzval design promised to be free of backfocus issues (assuming no reducer), which given recent experiences was music to my ears. I decided to go for it, and pushed the button.

I’d be coupling it with a ZWO ASI 2600MC-PRO USB 3.0 Cooled Colour Camera. I went OSC to keep things simple. However, I live in Bristol city centre – Bortle 8 light pollution – so added an Optolong L-eXtreme to my basket so I could still do narrowband imaging.

I decided to forego the optional Askar f/3.9 Full Frame Reducer for FRA400/5.6. This was for four reasons. 1) The L-eXtreme isn’t as effective with very fast systems; 2) 400mm is good to frame the targets I’m most interested in; 3); with the reducer I’d need to get the backfocus spot-on, and I’d had enough of that with the WO ZS73; 4) I’d save £269!

 

My kit
Askar FRA400 f/5.6 Quintuplet APO Astrograph
ZWO ASI 2600MC-PRO USB 3.0 Cooled Colour Camera
William Optics 32mm Slide-base Uniguide Scope
ZWO ASI 120MM Mini USB 2.0 Mono Camera
ZWO EAF - Electronic Automatic Focusmotor
ZWO ASiair Pro Wireless Astrophotography Controller
Optolong Dual-Band L-eXtreme Filter (2”)
ZWO 2″ Filter Drawer with M48 / M42 Connections
Primaluce Lab 30mm PLUS Spacers
William Optics DSD 245 Plate
Dew heater straps
Orion Sirius EQ-G mount

 

Image quality
Not being a pixel peeper, I’m not qualified to write a detailed analysis of image quality here, but I will post a single sub so people can make up their own minds. I can say though that I’m very happy with the views – both through the eyepiece and via the camera. There are some aberrations (fringing maybe?) around stars at the edges of the frame -- zoomed examples included below. 

 

Issues and solutions
Build quality on the whole is good, a different league to the 80ED, but not quite up there with the WO ZS73. The dew shield is a little loose, and on the cusp of sliding down under its own weight when the telescope is pointing straight up. I solved this by putting a white elastic band on the main tube, just behind the dew shield – a DIY fix but works just fine. The lens cap also feels a bit loose, but hasn’t fallen off. The default focusser is ok, but doesn’t quite have the premium feel of the WO ZS73. I upgraded with a ZWO EAF, which was very easy to install, and works perfectly. I'd consider this a must if you're astroimaging.

The supplied dovetail is quite short, and makes it difficult to achieve balance if using a heavy camera. I solved this with Primaluce Lab 30mm PLUS Spacers and a William Optics DSD 245 Plate. This allows for good balance, plus there’s room for an ASIAIR PRO to be attached at the back.

All my accessories are attached to the left-side of the telescope, making it slightly off-balance. However, there are enough holes in the spacers and tube rings to allow for the dovetail to actually be attached slightly off-centre to the telescope, allowing for it to all be well balanced. You can buy a Finder Plate to open up more options.

The telescope comes with a conical M68 to M48 adapter. Askar say this is threaded for 48mm filters – ideal for my L-eXtreme, or so I thought. I couldn’t really see where there was a thread in the adapter. I e-mailed Askar customer support, and got a reply two days later saying that the thread is inside the adapter. Fair enough, there is a thread in there, but no way of actually getting a filter inside and screwing it tight. It’s really odd. I e-mailed Askar again to ask for clarification, but this time didn’t get a reply. So, I don’t rate their customer service. From more research online, it looks as if some of the adapters come in two parts that screw together, presumably to give access to the thread. In the end I bought a ZWO 2″ Filter Drawer with M48 / M42 Connections. This fixed the issue, and is very convenient, but is an extra cost that should be considered.

The ASKAR FRA400 doesn’t come with a carry case, which is a bit of a shame.

 

Summary
I’m really happy with my ASKAR FRA400, and think it’ll serve me well for years to come. Once the initial issues were overcome, I’ve been finding it a lot of fun. It’s compact and light -- I can carry the OTA with all attached accessories in one hand. It pairs well with the ASI2600 and L-eXtreme. The ASIAIR PRO controls everything very neatly as well. If I see a gap in the clouds, I can set everything up (tripod and mount in the garden, attach telescope, polar align, autofocus, start imaging) in 20 – 25 minutes. I’m looking into a DIY pier in the garden, which should reduce this to 5 – 10 minutes.

 

Images

Single FITS sub, straight from the camera (with L-eXtreme):

Light_IC1805_300s_Bin1_gain100_20201224-224655_-9.7C_0039.fit

 

Single 300s sub with L-eXtreme, debayered, stretched, and resized to 50%:

1086493005_Singlesub.thumb.jpg.43e747ddb764bf80d289b6db84c27f17.jpg

 

Random star from the centre of the frame:

Centre.JPG.301d3dca0434aa40c3b5ed04750018e0.JPG

 

And the edge of the frame:

Edge.JPG.5fe3650f7eef8278dfcb7675296d2bd9.JPG

 

8.5 hours of integration time. One of my very first attempts at processing with PixInsight, so definitely not the limit of what the telescope can do, but more an indication of what a beginner can achieve in Bortle 8 skies:

1549682745_HeartNebula--December2020--webresolution.thumb.jpg.e8fb2e0347150855ce4663d4b61362a4.jpg

 

Views of the Askar FRA400 in my garden:

1536940079_AskarFRA400--webresolution-6801.thumb.jpg.90b18b1b385a5fe5412efcba74df6be8.jpg1810769438_AskarFRA400--webresolution-6831.thumb.jpg.960d6c95c8380d2f057e9199feba2729.jpg374835418_AskarFRA400--webresolution-6833.thumb.jpg.f2f0a1ca5736c43cb736b01962785609.jpg

Askar FRA400 -- web resolution-6827.jpg

Edited by Lee_P
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Thanks for the review, You have answered most of my questions about this scope. As Columbo would say, just one more thing. The plastic  ( well I think its plastic ) cone spacer between the camera and scope is that sturdy enough or is it worth replacing it?

Simmo

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1 minute ago, simmo39 said:

Thanks for the review, You have answered most of my questions about this scope. As Columbo would say, just one more thing. The plastic  ( well I think its plastic ) cone spacer between the camera and scope is that sturdy enough or is it worth replacing it?

Simmo

I love Columbo! The cone spacer is the M68 to M48 adapter. It's made of metal and is very sturdy. No need to replace it.

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Thank you for the review, they certainly are a tempting upgrade from the SW DS-Pro's.  I too am toying between mono/filters and colour/dual band filters.  Very informative.

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On 11/01/2021 at 09:09, scitmon said:

Thank you for the review, they certainly are a tempting upgrade from the SW DS-Pro's.  I too am toying between mono/filters and colour/dual band filters.  Very informative.

It's a tough choice as the gap between mono and OSC has narrowed recently. Maybe that means that both are good options! All things being equal, mono would offer higher quality, but I went OSC and L-eXtreme for the convenience of a simpler imaging workflow and making the most of gaps in the UK's cloudy skies. I'd recommend thinking about how long you plan on using your new camera for before you'll likely want an upgrade -- for me, maybe five years or so. Then think about what option will best suit you over that specific timeframe. I may well go back to mono in the future, but for now OSC suits me best. Good luck with whatever you choose, and try not to get analysis paralysis!

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      The Moon:

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      Venus:

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