Borg 50FL Review
I am a huge fan of Ed’ Ting, but I do blame him for one thing – my near-obsession with small refractors. Twenty years ago, I read and re-read his evocative reviews of tiny marvels like Takahashi’s FC-50. So when Borg re-booted the FC-50 with a fluorite objective by Canon/Optron like the original, I simply had to have one. Yes, it was preposterously expensive for a scope the size of your finder. Like I said, blame Ed’.
But is the Borg 50FL actually useful for anything? Evidence from other tiny scopes isn’t encouraging, but this isn’t any small scope. I knew from experiments stopping down high-end refractors that an effectively perfect 50mm aperture can do a lot, especially on the Moon (and so for eclipses too). Sadly, one of Borg’s older mini-scopes, the 45ED, fell a long way short of that ideal. But when I reviewed the 45ED I did note that I’d like to try the 50FL. Now let’s find out if this tiny and expensive sliver of fluorite does any better.
Note: the 50FL has been discontinued, but is still available from some Borg dealers at the time of writing. The 55FL sounds similar, but is much faster at just F4.5 – better for very wide-field imaging, not so much for eclipses.
At A Glance
Depends on tube configuration
~900g, depending on config.
Data from Borg
What’s in the Box?
As with all Borgs, the answer is lots of little colourful smaller boxes, each containing some component or adapter.
Design and Build
Borgs are basically Mechano for astronomers, so it’s impossible to be specific here. The 50FL can be built into a huge range of different tube and focuser configurations, depending on your needs: visual, astrograph, telephoto, spotter or whatever.
A commonly sold visual configuration, certainly in Japan, was based on a Mini-Borg drawtube and a tiny (but expensive) Borg Crayford focuser connecting into the Mini-Borg components on an M57 thread.
In comparison, the OTAs on test here are based on the larger series 80 components that makes it possible to configure it as a telephoto lens with a helical focuser.
A quick note about fluorite and objective types are in order. Read, tune out or skip to taste.
The 50FL is a conventional Fraunhofer type doublet with the front (crown) element made not from glass but from a piece of synthetic fluorite (note no ‘flour’ in fluorite, soft though it is), a crystalline mineral. Fluorite scatters less light than glass, which is why it is revealed by its absence in a laser test (the unscattered beam disappears in the fluorite, but not in glass – see above). In this case, having fluorite as the first thing the light hits (after the coatings) makes the lens that bit more transparent too.
An alternative arrangement is to have the fluorite at the back in a more unusual configuration called a Steinheil. This protects the fragile mineral (which is good), but is probably not quite such an ideal optical design (it needs steeped curves grinding, for one thing). Many older fluorite objectives, including the original Takahashi FC-50, have this arrangement.
So, in reality, the Borg 50FL uses a different optical design to Takahashi’s collectable FC-50, even though it’s also an F8 fluorite doublet.
A laser test further reveals that the 50FL lens has a significant air gap – it’s not just a simple foil-spaced job. Air gaps can work as a kind of ‘virtual lens element’, giving the designer more freedom to correct aberrations. In many of those older Steinheil designs, like the FC-50, the fluorite was uncoated too, but not the Borg 50FL, which has top class multi coatings on all surfaces.
Like the FC-50, the 50FL is made by Canon/Optron in Japan. Unlike the FC-50, its cell, though finely engineered, is not colimatable.
Three Canon/Optron fluorite objectives: Takahashi FS-60, Borg 67FL, Borg 50FL.
Borg 50FL is a front-surface fluorite (Fraunhofer) doublet with a substantial air gap.
The tube you see here is based on Borg Series 80 components, not the usual (for this lens) Mini Borg. It looks a bit strange and un-wieldy, but means it can use a bigger helical focuser and fits straight into the Takahashi FS-60 clamshell on my little Teegul mount.
Another option I use is a 150mm long 80mm tube that allows the 50FL to be used as a telephoto lens with a screw-fit (rather than push-fit) attachment.
In this case, the focuser is the standard Borg helical focuser for the Series 80 tube set (part 7835). I like it for use as a telephoto, but it lacks travel for visual use and can get stiff under heavy loads. In any configuration, the 50FL will be quite a bit longer than many other small Borgs because of its longer focal length. For example, the 55FL has a focal length (and so OTA too) 15cm shorter.
Any configuration of the 50FL is light enough to go on any small mount or photo tripod. On my Teegul, the 0.6Kg counterweight is really too heavy for it.
Borg make a tiny single-arm fork mount which should be perfect.
In a sense Borgs are all accessory, but an obvious one for the 50FL is a reducer.
Buying a reducer for the 50FL isn’t as silly as it sounds. It’s a sharp lens with very low false colour and reduces very nicely to create a cheap, sharp, lightweight telephoto. There are three reducer options for the 50FL:
· 0.85x MiniBorg doublet reducer (part 7885): 340mm F.L. F6.8. The cheapest option, this reducer gives good results with a modest increase in false colour to pay for a nicely corrected field with just a little drop-off in the corners. It is APS-C only.
· 0.7x triplet reducer (part 7870): 280mm F.L. at F5.6. Should work with full-frame, but has a design that easily introduces tilt. Discontinued, but still available at the time of writing.
· 0.72x quadruplet reducer (part 7872): 288mm F.L. at F5.8. Intended for the 71FL/90FL, this is the reducer of choice for the 50FL because it has the same focal length (400mm) as the 71FL. Japanese photographers have used it with the 50FL to great effect, producing full-frame images with excellent coverage that are sharp to the very edge at F5.8.
Borg 50FL configured as a telephoto lens with the 0.85x Mini Borg doublet reducer.
In Use – Daytime
Daytime views are very sharp up to 100x (about the limit for any 50mm scope). I could only coax the faintest trace of false colour out of it by focusing through a crow in silhouette. The 50FL would make a good lightweight spotter or birding scope; the only problem is the small aperture makes the view a bit dim at high powers in dull conditions.
Daytime photos are tack sharp centre-field and free of chromatic aberration, with lots of detail. The 50FL was noticeably better than the 67FL in this respect. It would be just the job for arty Moonrise shots without a flattener, just crop-out the slightly soft edges. However, if you want to use full frame then you will need a flattener and even for APS-C a flattener gives better coverage and saturation.
Photographers in Japan have obtained outstanding terrestrial images using the quadruplet reducer (part 7872) intended for the 71FL/90FL (see above), but I found results with the cheaper MiniBorg reducer (part 7885) were good for APS-C: very sharp centre-field, with minor softening in the corners (better than many commercial telephotos).
Borg 50FL with 0.85x Mini Borg reducer: Fuji X-trans APS-C with no processing.
In Use – Astrophotography
Surprisingly, images of brighter DSOs are quite doable with the 50FL. Exposure times obviously reflect F8 and off-axis curvature is a bit higher than I was expecting, even on APS-C. Otherwise the results are surprisingly good for such a small aperture, with modest levels of blue-violet bloat.
With the 0.85x MiniBorg reducer, an almost perfectly flat APS-C field results, with just very minor coma in the corners, yet still nicely sharp on axis. Violet/blue bloating is increased slightly.
Images of the Moon are sharp and detailed for the aperture, suggesting the 50FL would work well for eclipses, better than one of the very fast Borg scopes like the 67FL.
M37: 50FL at prime focus with no reducer, single APS-C frame.
M36: 50FL with 0.85x Mini Borg reducer, single APS-C frame.
Moon through 50FL: cropped and slightly pushed contrast.
In Use – The Night Sky
General Observing Notes
The 50FL’s longer light cone makes it usefully easier to focus than, say, the 67FL. Focus is still very snappy, though.
Pretty much instant.
The star test surprised me, because I’d expected excellence. In truth, it’s quite under-corrected, possibly by design. But in-focus stars revealed perfect diffraction rings around a larger than usual Airy disk (small aperture means large Airy disk). There was no false colour in the star test, even on Sirius.
A magnification of 80x with a 5mm (in this case Nagler Type 6) eyepiece gives a great view of the Moon: super-sharp, high-contrast, with no false colour and a lot more detail than you might expect from 50mm. Things were just as good at 100x with a 4mm eyepiece. Upping the magnification to 114x with a 3.5mm eyepiece still gave an excellent view, with none of the softness or wash-out I got with the 45ED at higher powers.
I was surprised by how much I could see on a Moon just past 1st quarter, with all the major highlights – Pitatus, the Great Wall, Clavius on the terminator, Tycho and the Appennines, Rima Hyginus too. Two days later I enjoyed Sinus Iridium on the terminator, with its wrinkle ridges and the pointed shadow of Promontarium Laplace.
To put this in context, views of the Moon resolved a little less than my old Questar, but were very comparable with the much larger Borg 67FL. All the features in my ‘Photogaphic Lunar Atlas’ by Chong, Lim and Ang were discoverable. For a 50mm scope, that’s quite something.
In poor seeing I was easily able to make out Jupiter’s equatorial cloud belts and darkened polar regions.
Early in an opposition year, with Mars just 5” across, the 50FL revealed a minute orange disk, crisply defined and with no false colour at 114x.
What can you expect from 50mm? Actually, I was surprised by the deep sky performance of the 50FL. It is almost flat to the edge with a good eyepiece and delivers very contrasty views of bright DSOs – thank the front surface fluorite and excellent coatings.
The Orion Nebula showed lots of extended nebulosity and a hint of colour at 27x with a 15mm Panoptic. Likewise, The Pleiades were sparkly diamonds in mist – perfect.
A 50mm aperture was never going to be great for doubles, but the 50FL easily split Castor. I might have glimpsed Rigel B.
The 50FL gave the best views I’ve seen of deep sky through any 50mm optic (premium binos included).
The 50FL is another small refractor that isn’t what I expected. It has rather more off-axis field curvature than I was expecting based on other F8 doublets and the star test showed a lot of under-correction. But in focus, it is extremely sharp and contrasty at high power and gave lovely views for such a small aperture. Views of the Moon were very good up to 100x and more, similar to something like an 80mm Maksutov - pin-sharp and full of detail, suggesting the lens is very well figured and polished.
The 50FL is a front-surface fluorite doublet with the best modern coatings, so it gets out of the way of the light better than just about any other design. Consequently, visual deep sky is better than you would expect.
APS-C imaging of brighter DSOs is perfectly possible using the 50FL, with or without a flattener - giving sharp stars and modest violet-bloat. The 50FL would be ideal for prime-focus imaging of eclipses, too. The 0.72x super-reducer should make it good for full frame imaging.
However, in many ways the 50FL is best as a cheap, super-sharp, low false colour, lightweight terrestrial telephoto lens, with or without a reducer.
Recommended if you must have the smallest, lightest high-power scope available: for spotting, eclipses or quick looks at the Moon and planets. Very highly recommended as a telephoto lens.
Borg 50FL with its favourite astronomical target: The Moon.