New Moon Telescopes Review – 16″ F/4.0 BFF

Note: This review comes after years of using this telescope.  I sat down the other day, and thought to myself that my largest astronomical investment was such an amazing win.  Here’s what led me to that realization!

New Moon Telescopes  16”f/4 BFF

A few years ago, I had been considering pushing through into the realm of a larger aperture telescopes.  I was having an amazingly tough time finding a scope that didn’t just act as a fine astronomical instrument, but if I was going to spend that much money on a telescope, I was really looking for that “wow” factor.

We as amateur astronomers have a very good understanding of the “Wow” factor.  When we observe through a telescope, the M44 Beehive Cluster, is an amazing object.  All of those brightly colored orange and yellow stars… just beautiful.   It has so many wonderful and distinct features.  Now push over to M13, the Hercules Great Globular Cluster.  That is a “wow!” object.  So many colors and features, it is grand, it is vast and it is awesome.  Digging into the details about what it is, and how it works – that is just a side effect of its majesty – you can’t avoid it.  People who know nothing of globular clusters, look into the eye piece, and they cannot avoid that inevitable statement.  It is just overwhelming, and it is not ordinary.  M44 is not ordinary either, but it doesn’t pack that same wallop, that same energy, that same mysticism and curiosity that drives even a novice or newbie to say “wow!”

In addition to the “Wow” factor, I also had some not so ordinary desires at the time.  These requirements included:

  • The scope must be easy to move around – move the scope with or without wheel barrel handles.
  • The scope must support fast setup – from car to collimated in under 10 minutes.
  • No ladders or steps – I’m not getting younger, and I’m only doing this once.
  • Smooth mechanical operation
  • Support “Push-To” digital setting circle operation
  • Easy collimation
  • Premium quality optics as part of the order.

 

Sales Engagement

I had a few interactions with Ryan Goodson’s New Moon Telescopes in 2012 and 2013 through friends and at various astronomy events.   At the Cherry Springs Star Party, Ryan was setup next to me with a fresh build he was demonstrating to people.  It was a beautiful, dark wood 16” f4.5.  By the time he was done with the demonstration, I had found my “Wow!” scope.  What a fantastic and innovative instrument.

Ryan and I spent the next few months educating me on options, optics and varying design parameters.  He was great.  Ryan wasn’t hesitant to work with me, and put the extra effort into ensuring that I understood some of the decisions I had to make.  He was very open to customizing the scope, and ensuring that I was happy with what I was going to buy.  This was very encouraging.

When I was ready, and my design was chosen, the order was placed with Ryan.  This triggered the ordering of the mirror, and a schedule was set for the build.  This review will drift into more of the technical aspects of the telescope, but I wanted to mention that the delivery date that was set, is the date that was met (by both mirror maker and Ryan).

 

During the Build

After the initial payment, Ryan jumped right in, and I started getting emails.  Great communications every step of the way through the process.  Mirror status, wood working status, etc.  In the middle of my build, a new option was offered by New Moon Telescopes with their aluminum bearings.  Ryan worked the first release of these bearings into my build (this was a fantastic addition by the way).

 

Scope Aesthetics and Craftsmanship:

As my next-door neighbor puts it, “It looks like a premium piece of furniture.”  He is right – amazing!  From a quality perspective, only high quality components were used.  From a construction perspective, high quality and solid are the right terms to use.  All wood structures (high quality Baltic Birch) are connected using traditional cabinet like box joints which are very rigid and pleasing to the eye.   I chose a darker red mahogany finish, and Ryan placed a superb topcoat that you could use as a mirror itself.   Also, I had a weird request that Ryan was amazing at working with me on, and at the time it was a bit of a challenge.  I wanted all the connection hardware and components to be black in color.  As he always does, Ryan went above and beyond.  The addition of the new black powder coated bearings in the middle of the build just makes the scope.   I’ve had the scope for about three years now, and I still find myself admiring its beauty.

I’m an avid collector of meteorites, and I really wanted to make that interest a part of this instrument.  And this “off the menu” custom request went through a few iterations of design, and the result added greatly to the aesthetics of the scope.

In three years of owning the scope, transporting it all over the Northeast, and easily logging 200+ hours of observing time, I have had no issues with the scope or any of its parts.  I have had numerous hours of discussion with other amateur astronomers about the scope, and that is a wonderful consequence I had never even considered.

Features of the Scope:

The scope comes loaded with all sorts of capabilities as I defined the build.  First for the optic, a Lightholder Optics 16” F/4.0 mirror was chosen, and this is a fantastic mirror visually stunning views, and equally impressive specs.  The F/4.0 keeps the eyepiece at eye level for me while at zenith.  There’s nothing like seated or flat footed observing for those long nights.  The secondary mirror is from Antares Optics (1/20 wave), and the mounting includes a lighter duty dew heater solution to help prevent dew. It does a great job in normal dew conditions, but doesn’t keep up in heavy dew conditions (this was known in advance), and an available custom dew solution would be required to meet those rarer cases of heavy dew.

The aluminum bearings are not only aesthetic, but they are powder coated with a bit of an “orange peel” texture to them.  This adds a tiny bit of resistance to the rotation, and reduces the amount of counter weight adjustments from heavy to light eye pieces.  Speaking of which the counter weight for the scope is under the mirror box, keeping it out of the way.  With a single setting of the counter weight, I’m able to have either no eyepiece in the scope or a Televue Nagler 31mm (very heavy eyepiece) in the scope.  This is GREAT for changing eye pieces without losing the target due to balance issues.  I have not adjusted my counter weight in over 2 years.  Some users may think this bearing approach feels too sticky at first, but I have been able to evolve my touch so that I can adjust to a fine degree of accuracy.

Both Alt and Az axis of movement glide in a very smooth fashion, and are easy to target in longer, shorter and precise pushes.  I was glad to see that the focuser used is a duel speed Moonlite focuser, as I’m loyal to that brand of focuser.  There are four secondary mirror collimation push/pull screws, and three push/pull knobs on the 18-point mirror cell assembly and this makes collimation super easy, stable and reliable.  The tri-boundary layer fans cool the scope rapidly and efficiently.  The fans are quiet and operate with very low vibration.  I’ve often started observing with them running and did not notice.

Other standard features included with the scope are a Telrad finder as well as wheel barrow handles for moving the scope if needed.  However, I will state I only use the wheel barrow handles in my garage to move the scope in and out quickly.  When on the road, I can carry the scope components to the spot on the observing field.

In my scope build I ordered the Argo Navis and Push-To Encoder solution offered through New Moon Telescopes.  This is a very easy to use system.  The encoders are placed on the scope, and each encoder has cables which are run to the Argo Navis computer.  This encoder solution works very well.  Also as part of the custom build, Ryan built a tablet stalk that I mounted the Argo Navis too as well as for holding my iPad that I use for reference.  This solution worked great for me, and 6 months ago I replaced the Argo Navis with a newer Nexus DSC solution which is well supported by the encoders on the scope.

 

Scope Setup and Operation:

Of the biggest items of importance to me is easy setup.  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen folks in the observing field looking up what poles go where, messing up their pole placement, taking it apart, etc…etc.   I wanted simple and fast.  New Moon Telescopes comes with an amazing 1 piece truss tube assembly that is super simple to use.   Open the tube assembly, place it on top of the mirror box, tighten the four screw down connectors, place the cage on top of the assembly, and tighten down those four screw connectors.  That’s it – very simple.  I love this feature!

To move the scope pieces from my car to where I’m going to observe and complete setup all the way through collimation, it takes me about 8 minutes by myself.  If I’m using the Push-To Electronics, then that might be 10 minutes.  No ladders, no math, no odd and frustrating hardware pieces, no secret tricks – just a simple setup and start observing.

This is a wonderful innovation.

 

Scope Maintenance

A dobsonian telescope is a simple endeavor, and one of its goals is to minimize the amount of maintenance required.  I clean the mirror 1-2 times a year, and I will admit that the first mirror cleaning was a bit of an adventure for me.  Ryan was there for me though, and he walked me through step by step removing the mirror from the telescope and how to reinstall it.  Like many things in life, it’s easy after the first time.  The only other regular maintenance on the scope is every other year or so a screw loosens up on the truss tube assembly, and a simple screw driver can be used to tighten it up.

 

In Summary

After purchasing my New Moon Telescopes 16” Dob, the amount of observing hours I logged doubled easily.  The scope performance is superb, but making it easy to setup, roll out, collimate, etc really makes the big difference in my very busy life.  New Moon Telescopes innovative ideas are focused on making big Dobs easier to setup and use, and this has awakened a degree of excitement in observing that I didn’t expect.  Aesthetically, this is the most beautiful scope I could ever imagine owning.  Ryan Goodson’s attention to detail, carpentry skills and quality work creates beautiful instruments that become a part of the person who ordered it.

 

Telescope Specs:

  • 16” NMT F/4.0
  • Mirror by Lightholder Optics – precision annealed Schott-Supremax-33 with an aluminum/quartz reflective coating, resulting in 91% reflectivity
  • 5” Secondary Mirror 1/20 wave by Antares Optics
  • Mirror 400mm, secondary 101mm (minor axis)
  • Mirror Edge Thickness 1.6″
  • Mirror Box 20” x 20” x 14”
  • Rocker Box 21¾” x 21¾” x 10”
  • Upper Cage 20½” diameter x 11” high
  • Bearings 24” Powder Coated Aluminum “Crescents”
  • Height from ground to tip of bearing when mirror box sits in rocker box is 24″
  • Fully collapsible truss (8 aluminum tubes, 1 inch OD), 47″ tall
  • Spider by Astrosystems
  • Dual Speed Moonlite Focuser – Orange
  • Finder scope by Telrad
  • Mirror cell 18 point true flotation optimized with PLOP
  • Tri-boundary layer fans with on/off switch and adjustable speed knob
  • Custom solid oak wheel-barrow handles
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