By: Vlad Fedosov
There are not very many scopes that I would consider from “before my time”. For one reason or another, the Questar was always a scope that I considered as such. I guess the value proposition of the scope simply did not seem to be there for me when scopes such as the Meade ETX, and short focal length ED refractors where around when I was really getting into the hobby in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Having said that I have always wanted to see what the hype was around the Questar, and why someone would want to pay the kind of crazy money that this very finely crafter 3.5” Mak is worth. Until the time of writing I have never seen one in real life and when one came up for sale locally I jumped at the opportunity to finally own one of these ultra illusive maks. The Questar was originally designed and manufactured in the mid 1950’s and is made right here in the USA(which I love). The Questar promises a mobile observatory in a very portable box. So how does this scope of old stack up to its more contemporary rivals? Let’s dive in and find out!
My particular Questar is from the late 60’s and in mint shape. It really looked hardly used. It had the standard mirror and coatings that were in 100% perfect condition with not a spot on them. I tested my Questar in my mag 4 light polluted backyard over a few weeks time, both with moon and moon free nights. Where to start with what I think of the scope? Ascetically I think that the body and mount of the Questar is an absolute masterpiece. It looks so nice that I almost feel bad for having it outside to observe. The mechanics of the mount and control panel on the back are equally high quality and impressive. The Questar has a built-in barlow that you can activate with a flop of a switch. It also has a built-in finder that it activated by another switch. The focus knob is the only thing that I found a bit on the small side and I wished was larger for finer adjustments. Overall I was very impressed with the mechanics of the scope!
On to the actual visual performance. But wait, the Questar does not come with a tripod… It does come with tabletop legs that work well but my backyard does not have a suitable table to set up on. The good news is that the Questar is compatible with a standard photo tripod mount. I was able to easily used it on a heavy duty Celestron tripod that was designed for a c90. Once all set up on the tripod I put the scope in the finder mode and found Saturn with little issue. I first started with the low power eyepiece that produces 40x or 80x depending on whether you have the barlow engaged. Both these magnifications produced a cute looking image of Saturn that was razor sharp. But for planetary, this is of course not enough magnification. I proceeded to switch out to the high power eyepiece that produces 80x or 160x. Let’s take a time out… Why did they choose an eyepiece focal length that is exactly twice the length of the first? This makes no sense to me at all. Why would you want a duplicate power when you only have two eyepieces(the Questar is not compatible with regular 1.25″ eyepieces unless you buy an aftermarket adapter)? Anyhow moving up to 160x produced a clean, sharp image of the ringed planet. Comparing the view that I get with my Astro Tech AT80LE 80mm(FPL-53 doublet) the Questar produced a bit dimmer and noticeably less contrasty view. I was a bit surprised…
On a different night, Mars was out and about a month past opposition. With the planed centered in the field of view(FOV) at 160x I was shocked at how well the polar cap was visible. The amusement stopped there as I had a really hard time decerning a bit of a darker area near the polar cap on the surface of the planet. The small AT80LE refractor produces detail on the surface much easier. If at this point you are wondering if my Questar was out of collimation, it was not. I received it from the previous owner perfectly collimated. I next proceded to test the scope on some deep sky objects. M57 was right overhead and an easy target to spot in the finder. Having found it quite easily I was greeted with the familiar little ring at 80x. The ring was nicely framed with the surrounding stars being pinpoints and almost looking refractor like. The ring itself was quite dim and from what I remember my ETX-105 displayed the nebula noticeably brighter. I do find that overall the built-in finder works well on bright objects such as planets or bright stars, but is very difficult to use if you are trying to chase down some dim fuzzies.
In conclusion, I found the Questar to be an excellently engineered telescope and a real work of art to look at. The views that the scope produces are very sharp but honestly lacks the contrast and brightness of its more contemporary brothers. I’ll conclude by saying that for the very well off person that can afford to own one of these and has major space constraints while traveling this is the ultimate setup! If you are very well off and want to display one of these and have it as a conversation starter in your office, this is an excellent choice. If you, however, want to actually use this fine instrument as a serious observing tool, I would really look elsewhere especially considering the price.