Vixen 60/910 L Achromat Review
This was the original (with a close serial to prove it) guide scope on a beautiful veteran Vixen FL-102S set that I was kindly loaned to review. But it was such a nicely made thing I decided to unmount it from the rings and try it out as scope in its own right.
I discovered a very fine little long-f achromat, worthy beyond the guide rings and capable of high powers. My guess is that this is the same optic that Vixen once sold stand-alone as an L version.
At A Glance
Vixen achromatic guide scope
Data from Me.
Design and Build
Thirty years on, Vixens from this era are developing a following as classic small Japanese refractors. It's a bygone era now, one when many amateur astronomers were at their happiest teasing out detail on the Moon and planets through 0.965" Kelners and Orthoscopic eyepieces with a narrow (but super-sharp) field, their eyeball glued to a tiny glass eye lens.
This may be just a guide scope, but it has the classic Vixen look from the 1990s and early Noughties, complete with Hammerite green metallic accents like the standalone scopes from that era - from modest achromats like this one, to apochromats approaching 5".
The build still has a hand-made-in-small-batches vibe largely gone from astro gear now. However, whilst build quality is good, it isn't at the artisanal level of a Takahashi FC-60 (for example), nor honestly the slick mass-produced quality of many modern scopes from China, but that IMO is part of the charm.
1990s Vixens shared styling and finish cues, this one a 70FL.
The lens is a Japanese made, air spaced (with foil spacers) achromatic doublet, with basic crown and flint elements, same as millions of others. Coatings appear to be high quality, but a single layer of magnesium fluoride, not modern multi layers.
The difference from many achromats of the time is that this one has a longer focal length than most at 910mm, to give a full F15 that should mean very low levels of chromatic aberrations at 60mm aperture. It's also, as we will see, very well figured - notably better than most similar optics that I've reviewed (including those from the likes of Unitron and Pentax).
The cell is fixed, unlike that of the FL-102 it came with (though later FL objectives also did away with collimation adjustment).
The tube is ~65mm diameter and is otherwise like any other Vixen of the time, well finished in glossy off-white enamel, flat-blacked inside and with a couple of knife-edge baffles to kill stray light and improve contrast.
The lens cell threads on, but it's basic screws for the focuser.
The long focal length means this is a much longer OTA than a 60mm apochromat and much less portable as the result, but it is very light at under 2 Kg.
The cast focuser with its chrome drawtube and green Hammerite finish and black Vixen-typical plastic knobs matches the big scope. Smooth and image-shift free it's a nice unit, but the drawtube is too narrow for a 1.25" eyepiece holder, so it's 0.965" only.
The original guide scope mounting consists of two wide rings with long metal bolts to provide support and adjustment. Fortunately for the tube, those bolts have nylon tips.
To mount the OTA separately, I reached for an FC-60/FC-50 Takahashi clamshell that looked a similar diameter at 68mm; but unfortunately the tube is slightly narrower, so I had to temporarily shim it with some felt.
The OTA is long but light, goes on any small mount. Of course, a classic Vixen SP, GP or DX with the matching green hammered finish would be ideal. At the time of writing, nice examples of these mounts are still widely and cheaply available (cos y'all want sine wave motors and goto).
Vixen SP mount that came with the FL-102 set is a perfect match for the smaller OTA.
The focuser drawtube has a threaded end, but is only wide enough for a 0.965" eyepiece holder. Back in the day, Vixen would have supplied some very decent 0.965" Orthoscopic eyepieces with this if bought as a standalone OTA, but I don t have a set.
Luckily, I do keep a Takahashi 0.965" prism diagonal and a set of matching Takahashi MC Orthos for this situation. I really like Tak's MC Orthos they're very well made and coated, but come at a much more sensible price than Pentax's 0.965" Orthoscopics which now seem to attract collector's prices (or maybe I'm just sore cos I sold mine when they didn't).
I also swapped out the set-screw eyepiece holder that you see in the pics for a Takahashi twist-lock visual back from an FC-60 to avoid marking the diagonal with Vixen's set-screw the threads matched.
Takahashi's MC Orthos are highly recommended for 0.965" only scopes: better than circle V and T, (much) cheaper than Pentax's.
In Use Daytime
Not the kind of thing you'd ever use as a spotter, it nonetheless gives sharp daytime views, with very modest false colour in my usual 100x branches test.
In Use Astrophotography
The 0.965" visual back means I couldn't try any imaging.
In Use Observing the Night Sky
General Observing Notes
The focuser has a narrow draw tube that makes it 0.965" only. I guess it had been little used (if at all). The action is very smooth and free of shift, but as always the grease had hardened to make it a bit stiffer than it would once have been.
A focal length of 910mm is getting into the range where I prefer a finder, but there's no way to mount one here. One advantage of that long focal length is that you can use longer focal length eyepieces to achieve high magnifications (Orthos suffer from terrible eye relief below 5mm): I only needed the 9mm and 7mm.
Unfortunately the downside is a small field - the longest MC Ortho is 25mm and gives a minimum mag of 36x and a field of about a degree, too narrow for the largest DSOs and asterisms.
Small doublets cool almost immediately and this one is no exception.
It's not hard to make a slow, small achromat and this little Vixen proves it with a perfect star test - identical rings either side, evenly illuminated and narrow - ironically, even slightly better than the expensive FL-102S it came attached to (though the FL s was still very good).
Small achromats are lunar over-achievers and the 60/910 is no exception, giving a sharp and contrasty Moon at 101x with a 9mm Takahashi MC Ortho, but with a purple fringe to the bright limb in focus that apochromatic optics avoid.
At 101x with a 9mm Takahashi MC Ortho, Mars at 10.8" diameter showed a proper gibbous disk, crisp and sharp, with a hint of albedo markings after opposition in February 2023.
False colour here was different from a typical ED doublet: no red blur out of focus or in the seeing, just a very faint and diffuse halo of deep purple that I'd seen recently when viewing Mars with another long-f achromat the 12" Zeiss at Griffith observatory!
The 60/910 guide scope even took the 7mm Tak Ortho on Mars, to yield a maximum practical magnification of 130x with no false colour and sharp gibbous disk with hints of albedo.
This kind of telescope really isn't what you'd choose for deep sky, but with a 25mm Tak Ortho the Pleiades just fitted in the field and looked nice and sparkly.
Another classic use for long focal length achromats is double stars. Castor was an easy split, but I couldn't convince myself I'd picked Rigel's dim companion from out of the glare.
It's just a guide scope after all, but production economics mean Vixen likely re-purposed one of their 60L planetary achromats, so this is a super little scope for planets, but for the Moon and easy doubles too.
Die-hards might tell you a perfect long-f achromat like this gives the same view as a 60mm fluorite apochromat like Takahashi's FC-60 (a real favourite of mine). It doesn't, quite. But it does come quite close for a fraction of the cost.
This is actually my first experience of a Vixen L achromat the long focal length editions they made of their small achromats from the Nineties, aimed at the planetary and lunar observer. If this one's anything to go by, they're well worth seeking out if portable planets are your thing.
Just a 60mm achromat, but a beautifully made (in Japan) one, with near-perfect optics.