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Thread: First light with new Mag1 Instruments Portaball 12.5"

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    Default First light with new Mag1 Instruments Portaball 12.5"



    Hi, everybody! I thought I'd drop in and share my experiences with my brand-spanking-new Portaball 12.5, which saw its first light this weekend.

    In Suggestions for high-quality Dobsonian optics? and Best eyepiece to showcase Zambuto f/5 mirror? I discussed some of this, but I'll give a brief backstory.

    I originally e-mailed Mag1 Instruments using their online form, early in November 2016 to discuss placing an order, but I never heard back. I tried calling the phone number listed on the website and always got an answering machine, but never got a call back. Finally, on November 21, I managed to get Dave Juckem (the owner) on the phone and we discussed the order. He happened to have a pair of 12.5" Zambuto mirrors in stock, so he said he'd be able to start on my scope immediately. The next day, I sent him an e-mail confirming the order. Dave estimated that he'd my telescope completed and ready to ship in late January or early February. I sent him a $1000 deposit to begin construction. I also made a special request to have my Portaball mount a Telrad instead of the standard-issue Rigel finder, as well as provide the ability to mount my Stellarvue F80 finder scope. Dave asked that I ship him the Telrad and the F80 so that he could integrate them into the design.

    By mid-February, the scope was still not completed, and I was having trouble getting timely e-mail responses from Dave. He explained that he was having some family issues that were keeping him away from his work. At this point I'd been without my Telrad and F80 for nearly three months, which limited my ability to do any observing in the interim. I continued to press Dave for status updates but responses were delayed and details about status were sparse. As I am planning to attend Texas Star Party at the end of May, it was important to me that the scope be finished and delivered by April's new moon, so that I could work out all the kinks with the new scope before taking it to Texas. After a number of additional e-mails asking for status updates and informing Dave of the impending deadline, I began to get more frequent updates and even photos of the in-progress build. By April 11, Dave had completed the scope, star-tested it, and was ready to ship it out. I mailed him a check for the balance and shipping, and the scope arrived on April 24 (the Monday after April's new moon). Total time from order to delivery: 5 months.

    I eagerly unpacked the three boxes that had arrived. One box houses the mirror, already glued to the custom-made mirror cell with integrated fan. Another tube contains the truss tubes, and a big box contains the "sphere", upper tube assembly, and all the assorted bits needed to complete the scope.

    Assembly was straightforward, and required only a Phillips screwdriver and a set of Allen keys. The instruction manual included plenty of pictures and diagrams that made putting the scope together, simple. Briefly, the assembly steps required are:
    • Assemble the base by screwing the legs on (9x Phillips screws)
    • Install the mirror assembly into the sphere (3x spring/sleeve/thumbscrew assemblies)
    • Install the sealed lead-acid battery inside the sphere (zip-tie)
    • Mount the focuser on the upper tube assembly (UTA) (2x Phillips screws)
    • Mount the secondary assembly on the UTA (1x thumb screw)
    • Assemble the telescope (attach truss tubes, UTA, light shield)
    • Square the focuser and collimate the scope (2mm Allen key + Phillips screws + thumbscrews)


    During assembly I found, to my dismay, that the UTA had been damaged in shipping. One of the spider vanes was bent and the bracket that holds it on the UTA had broken. I immediately e-mailed Dave and he responded that he would manufacture and send me replacement parts (as of this writing, they have not been shipped yet). In the meantime, I did my best to bend the wonky spider vane mostly back into shape, and epoxied the broken bracket. The resulting UTA is not at 100% -- the secondary is skewed off to the side a bit and the bent spider vane blocks a lot more light than the other two. But at least I was able to get the scope assembled and ready to put some photons through it. Collimation was straightforward -- being able to see the laser spot on the secondary makes squaring the focuser and the secondary a snap, and the Portaball's primary collimation screws are easy to reach inside the sphere. I did find that I couldn't get some eyepieces to come to focus due to a lack of in-travel on the focuser; I resolved this by tightening all three primary collimation screws a half-dozen turns or so, which raised the primary mirror by about half an inch. This pushed the focal plane far enough out that I was able to get all of my eyepieces to come to focus.

    I took the scope up to my favorite dark-sky site last night for its first light. Sadly, the seeing was quite poor, so the scope was seeing-limited. Head-to-head views between my Portaball 12.5 and my friend's Orion XT12 were essentially identical. In a few isolated cases (such as observing M61) I saw a bit more detail in the subject. I'll have to wait until Texas Star Party to really see the limits of what the Zambuto-based optics can do.

    Mechanically, the Portaball is just sublime. The lack of separate altitude and azimuth rotation axes makes tracking objects in the eyepiece simple and smooth. Similarly, tracking an object across the zenith is not a problem at all. And finally, being able to rotate the entire scope to put the focuser in a comfortable position is a game-changer when compared to a traditional dobsonian. Every square inch of the telescope shows attention to detail and careful engineering. The wires inside the sphere are covered in a matte black sleeve. The LEDs that indicate the fan and integrated dew heater status, have little hoods over them to prevent even red light from distracting you from the eyepiece. The integrated secondary dew heater actively measures the ambient air temperature and regulates the current flow through the heater to keep them at equilibrium -- no rheostat to adjust. And the dew system even includes a boundary layer fan for the primary mirror. The truss supports are made from lightweight but strong aluminum tubes, and use ball-in-socket mounts to affix them to the tube. The assembled truss system is extremely rigid, especially given its light weight. The UTA is simply gorgeous -- machined from a single block of lightweight aluminum and anodized matte black. The UTA features a three-vane curved spider that eliminates diffraction spikes, and features a clever method of delivering power from the truss tube to the secondary dew heater: a couple strips of copper foil are glued to one of the spider vanes, ensuring the vanes are all as razor-thin as possible to minimize contrast loss. The focuser is a Starlight Instruments Feathertouch with 10:1 fine focus, which glides effortlessly.

    Using the scope was a great experience. Locating and tracking objects was simple, due to the smooth movement of the sphere in its base. The integrated fan brought the thick Zambuto mirror to thermal equilibrium in under an hour. I was concerned that with the focuser in different orientations, that I might have trouble building "muscle memory" for how to move the scope to keep subjects in the field. This turned out to not be an issue, and by the end of the night I was gleefully rotating the scope around to comfortable positions, no matter what side of the scope that meant I sat on.

    I expect that I'll have a chance to provide a better review of the scope's optics upon my return from Texas Star Party. Hopefully by then I'll have a replacement spider as well, which should correct some of the misalignment in the optics.

    The good:
    • Fantastic construction and build quality
    • Love the movement action and lack of separate alt/az axes
    • Zambuto optics
    • Fantastic focuser
    • Integrated intelligent dew control system
    • Integrated primary mirror fan
    • Integrated battery with easily accessible charge port, including high-quality "battery tender"-style charger/maintainer
    • High quality nylon shroud included
    • Easy to collimate
    • Very portable


    The bad:
    • Spider assembly is fragile. Spider mounts are plastic (a bit surprising).
    • UTA is difficult to mount to trusses; it feels like you need three hands to do it -- must align truss screw, light shield, and UTA mount point all at once. It's possible to do it with one person, but it can be frustrating, and if it goes wrong, you just dropped a 1/20 wave secondary on the ground.
    • Secondary alignment requires use of a 2mm Allen key (no Bob's Knobs)
    • Spider assembly "sags" slightly during use; laser spot on primary mirror moves around a bit when swinging the scope to different parts of the sky.
    • 1.25" adapter not included
    • UTA is an awkward shape and difficult to store when not in use


    All said, I think the good far outweighs the bad. I'm really happy with the scope and expect it's going to give me years and years of dedicated service.

    DSC_0260.JPGDSC_0261.JPGDSC_0262.JPG

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    Default Re: First light with new Mag1 Instruments Portaball 12.5"

    Hello Paul,

    congratulations on the Portaball with the Zambuto mirror!
    The Zambuto mirror should win on the contrast of the views against the budget mirrors.
    The Portaball mount is certainly very comfortable, the finder scope mounted on the ball is a nice accessory!

    Looking forward to your observing reports,

    JG
    Last edited by j.gardavsky; 05-02-2017 at 09:25 PM.
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    Default Re: First light with new Mag1 Instruments Portaball 12.5"

    Hi Paul! Congrats on your new Portaball and thanks much for a very detailed and well written review and first light.
    Bryan

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    Default Re: First light with new Mag1 Instruments Portaball 12.5"

    Thanks for the great review, looking forward to the extra review after the star party.
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    Default Re: First light with new Mag1 Instruments Portaball 12.5"

    Dave informs me that he's shipping the replacement parts for the spider tomorrow. So hopefully I'll have some updates (and probably some additional photos) by this weekend.

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    Default Re: First light with new Mag1 Instruments Portaball 12.5"

    My friend has a 12.5 inch Portaball. She just got two new eyepieces, and the views in the city of Jupiter were amazing. She purchased a 9 mm and 14 mm Explorer Scientific 100 % FOV. I personally was going to purchase a Portaball, but because the manufacturer never responded to my inquiries, I went with a Obsession.

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    Default Re: First light with new Mag1 Instruments Portaball 12.5"

    Quote Originally Posted by Hot Coco View Post
    because the manufacturer never responded to my inquiries, I went with a Obsession.
    Yeah I was VERY close to that point (with a Teeter+Zambuto Classic) when I finally managed to get through to Dave. I'm sure I would have been very happy with a Teeter scope as well (same price, same optics) but I like the design of the Portaball a lot better.
    Hot Coco and Peter802 like this.

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    Default Re: First light with new Mag1 Instruments Portaball 12.5"

    Second light report! We had a night of better-than-average seeing conditions and so I thought I'd put my Zambuto-equipped Portaball up against the C14 in my backyard observatory, observing Jupiter.

    In the Portaball I used a Meade Series 5000 HD-60 6.5mm eyepiece (244x, 1.3mm exit pupil)

    In the C14 I used an Explore Scientific (Bresser) 70 degree 15mm eyepiece (261x, 1.4mm exit pupil)

    Both scopes had the same amount of time to acclimate (I store the Portaball in the observatory) and I had the dome shutter open for a couple hours.

    In short, the Portaball blew the C14 away. During moments of stable seeing, I was able to see tiny festoons in the equatorial belts, and the GRS looked amazing. The Galilean moons focused to sharp points of light. By comparison, the C14's view was noticeably softer. The festoons in the equatorial belts were still visible during moments of stable seeing, but required substantially more effort to see clearly. And that's saying something too, since the C14 was tracking Jupiter, so I didn't have to bump the scope at all!

    This is the first time I've been able to really do a proper A-B test between my two biggest scopes. I must say the Zambuto optics in my Portaball really live up to the reputation.

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    Default Re: First light with new Mag1 Instruments Portaball 12.5"

    Congrats on getting to finally use it under better skies and thanks for this report. We'll look forward to a future DSO shoot out report against the C14.

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    Default Re: First light with new Mag1 Instruments Portaball 12.5"

    It sounds like a great scope now that the teething issues are over! I love the concept of the Portaballs.

    Interesting comments re the C14: I have used two of these, both relatively old ones, and they were both a bit "soft" in their views, especially compared to my dob. I suspect they take a very long time to properly achieve thermal equilibrium.

    However, there is no substitute for quality optics: Zambuto mirrors aren't cheap, but they don't come much better: and it shows!
    All the best for "3rd first light" and beyond!

    - Dean

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