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Alkaid

TAL-1 4.3" Reflector Review

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A while ago I picked up a 2nd hand TAL-1 and having used the scope for around six months now, I have decided to share my thoughts on this particular model.

The TAL-1 is available brand new from various UK distributors and a quick search of ebay will also occasionally turn up a good condition second hand model. Originally the scope was manufactured using non-standard eye-pieces with a ‘push fit’ focuser which does not allow other eyepieces to be used unless you modify the scope; newer models are now supplied with the standard 1.25” focuser allowing any 1.25” eyepiece to be utilised. When I called the seller, he was unsure of what I meant by “standard eyepieces” so in the end I went to his address not really sure what I would be picking up.

Initial Impressions

I arrived to pick up the TAL and saw a little piece of history. It looked like it had come straight from the home of the chap who designed the Mir space station. A piece of ‘scaffold pole’ painted white with three black feet formed the pier. The mount had large chunky slow motion controls that looked and felt solid. The OTA is heavily built also; forget thin rolled aluminium, the material thickness of the OTA is 3mm of solid steel. Bombproof I thought….but functional? We will see…

This was an old model, the focuser used the push fit eyepieces, these were a 25mm Plossl, 15mm Kelner and a 3x Barlow giving magnifications of x32, x54, x96 and x169. The scope was complete with everything required for someone wanting a small telescope and included accessories were various coloured filters for planetary viewing, a moon filter, a sun projection screen, cleaning cloth and screwdriver.

I’ve had a few basic reflectors and in my mind I know what I am looking for; the scope was in reasonable condition and the mirrors looked good, on that basis I paid the seller and then started to disassemble the instrument and put it into the car. I then saw why the seller, a retired gentleman in his seventies, was selling. The TAL weighs in at 20Kg fully assembled, very heavy for a 4” scope assembly. The pier, mount and scope when disassembled are heavy on their own; there was no way that this chap could now bring the TAL out to play without doing himself a little injury. I hauled the components into the car and although I would have preferred the later model with standard eyepieces, I wasn’t completely put off and I drove home with the new toy.

Mount – Detail

As mentioned, the TAL-1 uses a solid metal pier with three feet attached. The feet are long and provide good stability. They are attached to the pier with hefty 10mm screws which are captive so that they can’t be lost in the dark; when done up tightly there is no movement or play in the feet. The screws have a flat metal weld on the end so they are designed to be tightened by hand and even with gloved hands this exercise is very easy to perform.

The pier is in two halves which have massive threads holding the two halves together. It really is just a large threaded scaffold pole painted white, but this apparent cheap simplicity has excellent benefits. When all of the fittings are tightened, there is very little vibration or movement in the pier and feet. It is solid as a rock and the only way to make it even more solid would be to concrete it into the ground. Due to the construction and excess weight, this ugly but rock steady mount easily trounces the flimsy mounts associated with other small aperture telescopes. It beats the aluminium legs of the EQ1 hands down.

The height of the mount is unfortunately non-adjustable and at first I found this weakness annoying, but it is comfortable for an adult to use whilst sitting down in most cases, or say a ten year old child standing up. It was a little irritating when looking at objects near the zenith as the height of the OTA dictated that I couldn’t fully stand or sit down, so ended up half crouched. Although I don’t have one, I suppose this could be solved by a dedicated and adjustable observing chair.

The RA and Dec controls are large metal wheels which fit the hand well. These controls are positioned snugly next to the OTA, this again means minimum vibration when tracking and also no need to remove a flexible control arm to the other side of the mount (as in EQ1) if you want to observe an object on the opposite side of the sky. The RA and Dec lock knobs are large, chunky and captive – it seems that the controls have been exclusively designed for use with cold or gloved hands (as you would expect in Russia!). All controls are very nice to use with little or no play and a smooth action. At the highest power, I was able to keep my hand on the RA control and slowly, slowly turn it to keep the object in the centre of the field, without any adverse vibration.

There is no option for a polar scope, however most budget reflectors do not have this option. I found that aligning the mount roughly with Polaris was enough to keep the object within the field when using the RA control for tracking, even at the highest power of x169.

The tube rings are lined with felt, this adds friction to the rings so that they do not have to be tightened excessively when holding the tube at a steep angle, thereby minimising the possibility of pinched optics from over-tightened tube rings.

Overall, my experience with the mount is that it has not been designed to win awards for appearance – it is ugly, but extremely solid, functional and very easy to use.

OTA in Detail

The OTA is solidly built from a continuous sleeve of 3mm steel with no seam. The primary mirror is 4.3” diameter with collimation locking bolts and adjustment screws. The secondary is supported by four thin vanes to minimise the diffraction penalty of the obstructed aperture. The focuser was stiff, but some lubrication helped and after much use it works just fine.

As explained, initially I had reservations about not being able to use my own eyepieces as this was an early model with TAL’s own ‘push fit’ eyepieces; however all the supplied eyepieces slotted into place nicely and did not slip out when the OTA was positioned upside down. When held in the hand, the eyepieces looked and felt to be reasonable quality for ones supplied with a budget scope.

To collimate I used the old trick of a plastic milk carton top with a hole drilled into the centre placed over the focuser, this allowed me to align the mirrors to an acceptable degree and produced good results at the eyepiece. Having a focal ratio of F7.3, the TAL-1 will hold it’s collimation better than an F5 reflector due to the collimation sweet spot being bigger. Even large knocks should not disturb the collimation of the scope by too much of a degree.

Viewing

Open Clusters

I found open star clusters to be a very satisfying target in this telescope. Using the 25mm eyepiece to view M45 The Pleiades, stars were pin sharp across 80% of the field after which only slight distortion crept in which I found to be impressive for a beginners telescope. M45 just fitted into the field and the view really was very good. Other clusters followed; The Double Cluster (Persues), M38, M37, M36 (Auriga), M35 (Gemini). All stars were nice and sharp and displayed their colours well.

Galaxies and Nebula

With just 4.3" of aperture, the TAL-1 is not a galaxy hunting light bucket. However, M31 (Andromeda) was displayed very nicely in the 25mm eyepiece from a dark sky site. The galaxies M81 and M82 were shown as faint patches with definite shape. M42 in Orion was very nice (although somewhat dim) and by using the highest power available the trapezium at its centre could be seen. On another date, I did try to view these objects from my light polluted city, none could be viewed. I expected this, and would say that if you are prepared to drive out to a dark sky site, the small aperture of the TAL-1 will show you deep sky objects reasonably.

Jupiter

Using the 15mm eyepiece and x3 barlow (169 power) Jupiter displayed its northern equatorial belt and hinted at other belts and zones during moments of good seeing. The southern equatorial belt was missing at the time of writing; although this makes the great red spot easier to see, the GRS could not be seen. Adding the supplied green filter for contrast improved the view with the belts being easier to see and I am sure that I did see a hint of the GRS. Just a hint mind…

The Galilean moons were shown very well, and I was able to study their movements easily over the course of a few consecutive clear nights.

Moon

Our own satellite is the best target for the TAL-1. All eyepiece combinations provide a stunningly crisp view of our neighbour in space. At 169 power, the crater Theophilus clearly displayed it’s central three mountain peaks and terraced walls, I could see that the crater floor was deeper than it’s underlying neighbour Cyrillus (due to Theophilus being a more recent impact). The crater Copernicus was a stunning site when illuminated at the edge of the terminator, again terraced walls and three central peaks shown well. Other features (too many to list) are within the lunar capability of this scope. In fact I am currently using the TAL to complete the ‘Lunar 100’ – a list of 100 features of the moon to view, ascending in increasing difficulty of observation. There are some features whereby the author of the list advises that a 6” or 8” telescope will be required, I fully concur but will have fun attempting to view the more difficult objects with the TAL, just because the lunar viewing really is this model’s forte.

Sun

One important point is that this model came with a blackened eyepiece filter for solar viewing, under no circumstances is this to be used if you value your sight. It immediately went in the bin. However, I had fun using the supplied projection screen and got a nice image of the sun showing a few sunspots.

Overall

At first I was worried about the weight of this scope, but see now that this was a deliberate design feature to ensure nice steady viewing. This scope really has a lovely solid platform that is a joy to use, apart from the height being fixed. Almost vibration free tracking with the use of hands is a rare attribute that this package encapsulates. Captive parts mean that you cannot lose vital bits and the designers really have thought about what is required for easy use, large easily graspable controls being in easy reach of cold hands just one great feature.

The optics are rather good for an entry level scope and I was very pleased with the sharpness of star images produced, especially when using the 25mm Plossl. This telescope produces images as good as can be had from a small reflector.

On the moon and open star clusters, the good quality optics certainly deliver. The TAL-1 is the best 4” reflector I have used to date and along with the many accessories which are included, this package will satisfy someone who just wants a decent small aperture telescope for many years to come.

Edited by 0113mountainman
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Nice review, I still use mine regularly while I'm imaging and it's just a lovely thing to use.

Tony..

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Nice review!

A sublime 'wee' scope and an utter bargain 2nd hand. Nuclear bomb-proof, with typical superb optics(same throughout the Tal range).

Most of the earlier Tal models used 2.5-3mm thick alluminium seamless tube. Tal has moved to thinner rolled steel for the later/new ones now I believe. The latter is still far superior to some tubes from other manufacturers I've seen over the years.

Glad you mentioned the mount, or rather the steel pedestal. No point having a great scope if the views through the eyepiece are bouncing around as soon as you touch the scope! A lot of folks new to the hobby will only find out the hard and frustrating way when they use a flimsy mount.

They're getting a bit difficult to find these days, but keep an eye out for a Tal wooden tripod. The Tal eq mount fits into it perfectly and extends from 3 to 5ft. Very, very sturdy.

We've had a Tal Users Group up and running now for about a year. Pop in if it's of interest. Stargazers Lounge - Tal Users Group It's turned into a very busy gathering place for fans of these Southern Siberian scopes !!

In time, if I were you, I'd try out some good quality higher power eyepieces on the Tal 1. The optics will show their true potential then, in my honest opinion.

All the best,

Andy.

Cheers,

Andy.

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Thanks all for your comments, I will be visiting the TAL user's group shortly.

Great scopes they are!

Steve

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Thanks very much for your review! I've haven't found a bad reveiw from any owners of this scope yet and am tempted to get one myself but the weight was a slight worry but after reading your comments I'm seeing it may be a plus. I have very limited storage space at home so your reference to its size (sitting down to use it) is reassuring as well.

Have you collimated it yet? I've never done this on any scope and it seems a bit scary.

I have a small refractor I bought back in November just to get started with and I think a TAL would be a great step up, nothing against the little refractor though.

Thanks once again.

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Thanks very much for your review! I've haven't found a bad reveiw from any owners of this scope yet and am tempted to get one myself but the weight was a slight worry but after reading your comments I'm seeing it may be a plus. I have very limited storage space at home so your reference to its size (sitting down to use it) is reassuring as well.

Have you collimated it yet? I've never done this on any scope and it seems a bit scary.

I have a small refractor I bought back in November just to get started with and I think a TAL would be a great step up, nothing against the little refractor though.

Thanks once again.

Hi John,

The OTA is about 80cm long and the whole assembly doesn't take up that much space, mine is stored in the bedroom and is ok spacewise. If it wasn't ok for you, you could just dis-assemble the lot and put it under the bed.

As this is the old model, I had to colllimate it with an old but proven method, but if you bought one brand new (about £200) you get the up to date industry standard 1.25" focuser. This mean you can use

a laser collimator for accurate collimation.

Don't be scared to adjust a newtonian reflector, you can't do any harm. They are meant to be adjusted and have to be if you put one in a car and drive anywhere (going over bumps can put the mirrors out). Once you've collimated once or twice, you will be fine.

Now I have one of these, I would not hesitate to buy a brand new one if I needed to. The included accessories plus the sharp optics make it a great buy.

I will pop some photos on here soon....perhaps one with me standing next to it so you can get a sense of scale with regards to your storage question.

Best regards Steve

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I loved my TAL 1..I now have a tinny skywatcher 250px...

I would love one of those TAL SCT's but they are pricey..

Mark

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would you be rid of the 250 if TAL brought out a 10" newt?

im on the same page as you with the K's, although i would love that 300K that is in development at the minute :)

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Thanks Steve for your additional comments. I look forwards to seeing your photo's!

John.

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If TAL brought out a 10 inch newt I would be interested..Especially with one of their solid mounts..but I suspect it would be very expensive!

Mark

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Well all, here are the pics...

The gear laid out:

post-23159-13387752943_thumb.jpg

Note eyepieces and filters, plus screw driver and soft brush.

The solid base with thumbscrews and large threaded pier:

post-23159-133877529438_thumb.jpg

The mount with nice easy to use RA and DEC controls, plus easy to grab locking knobs. Note green felt on the tube rings, a nice touch:

post-23159-133877529446_thumb.jpg

The business end....very thin spider vanes for diffraction limited performance. A 4.3" primary mirror...

post-23159-133877529453_thumb.jpg

Rear plug is to be removed for rapid cooling. Scope is ready within 20 - 30 minutes for observation, depending upon outside temperature.

post-23159-133877529461_thumb.jpg

Focuser is basic but nice. This is the old push fit one found on the old model. No complaints though, the non-standard eye-pieces work well. The finder is fantastic, brilliant clear view finds objects easily:

post-23159-133877529469_thumb.jpg

My six year old son with the TAL-1:

post-23159-133877529477_thumb.jpg

Moi. I'm a modest 5-8".

post-23159-133877529483_thumb.jpg

And finally, how it is used properly. Sitting down. Mount is elevated to 54 degrees (as if polar alligned from my location) and pointing North. Scope is pointing South. Very comfortable observing.

post-23159-133877529493_thumb.jpg

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Oh reading your review makes me want to go and get my old Tal out the shed again! Its funny how reading your review made me remember all those great nights using it. thanks for the memories!

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Thanks Steve, you're a gent! I really appreciate your efforts. My mind is decided, just a little bit of saving to do.

Many thanks and clear skies, John.

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Excellent review.

Glad I found this as I may be getting one. (fingers crossed )

Go for it Drew - you won't regret it :)

I was out in the Pennines last Thursday night till 2am, had some great views of Jupiter (the best I've had yet). Instead of the cloud bands being straight lines, I could actually detect 'cat fur' and festoons in the bands. A testimonial to the optics of this little scope.

Picked off some nice clusters - M103 in Casseopeia bagged - one that I have tried to see for some time from Leeds but failed due to light pollution.

Split Castor in Gemini and the Double Double in Lyra with ease.

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Great review, thanks. It's really helped me get a sense of the scope and realise it's near the top of my 'first proper scope' list. Cheers :)

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On 09/02/2011 at 20:17, Alkaid said:

Well all, here are the pics...

The gear laid out:

post-23159-13387752943_thumb.jpg

Note eyepieces and filters, plus screw driver and soft brush.

The solid base with thumbscrews and large threaded pier:

post-23159-133877529438_thumb.jpg

The mount with nice easy to use RA and DEC controls, plus easy to grab locking knobs. Note green felt on the tube rings, a nice touch:

post-23159-133877529446_thumb.jpg

The business end....very thin spider vanes for diffraction limited performance. A 4.3" primary mirror...

post-23159-133877529453_thumb.jpg

Rear plug is to be removed for rapid cooling. Scope is ready within 20 - 30 minutes for observation, depending upon outside temperature.

post-23159-133877529461_thumb.jpg

Focuser is basic but nice. This is the old push fit one found on the old model. No complaints though, the non-standard eye-pieces work well. The finder is fantastic, brilliant clear view finds objects easily:

post-23159-133877529469_thumb.jpg

My six year old son with the TAL-1:

post-23159-133877529477_thumb.jpg

Moi. I'm a modest 5-8".

post-23159-133877529483_thumb.jpg

And finally, how it is used properly. Sitting down. Mount is elevated to 54 degrees (as if polar alligned from my location) and pointing North. Scope is pointing South. Very comfortable observing.

post-23159-133877529493_thumb.jpg

Mount, short pier and feet look a lot like Fullerscope's export Mk 3 model. 

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I've got a TAL100RS now...I like that too....

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This was my first scope, never forget my views of Saturn through this.

Didn't appreciate the quality at the time and wish I still had it. Thing was a pain to move around on that pier though. 

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