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10/14/2010

Updated Review on the XX14i after 4 months or so (and at 10 months)

After purchasing my Orion XX14i I posted on my blog a review. Now that I have had it for four months, I want to update my review and tell you my overall impressions and thoughts about the scope.

First, this is a large telescope. One person can build it and take it down, but it does take some time and effort. It is easier when two people do it. It does not set up like my Orion XT10 which is really quick by simply putting the tube on the stand and locking it on with my knobs. At first I did not take the base apart and tried to carry the base through my standard office door (it is a room of normal size) and after scraping white paint on the base, I changed my mind on this. I now leave the upper part of the base assembled, and carry that out, and then the circular base. I then reassemble it together in the field. So, if you keep this telescope indoors you will have to keep the base in two pieces I feel to prolong its life. I am very happy with the take apart base and its design is simple and firm. Despite that a part of me wonders how long it will last with taking it apart after I view at home each time.

The BTA (bottom tube assembly) is heavy, 59lbs. I am glad I have the blue bags that hold the parts of the scope because I use the handles where the truss poles connect to the BTA to get it down the stars and outside. This again is a far easier task if done with two. On a side note, I have to admit that I catch myself now asking if I really want to take the 14” out to the backyard if I can’t get in the field and have used the XT10 because it is more convenient at home. Fitting the BTA into the assembled base isn’t too bad, but because of the intelliscope feature you have to be careful so you don’t damage the altitude encoder when you put it on the base. I also have a portable Magna Cart that I use with an extended bungee cord to transport (except down stairs). That has helped a lot and makes moving it around home fine, or out to the car. Taking it to a dark site isn't too bad as I simply move it from the SUV to the base at that time.

The BTA has some other items that I dislike. I have to begin with the large round knobs that adjust the mirror for collimation and the locking springs. I have a locking spring that just doesn’t like to lock and the corresponding large collimation knob that comes loose as a result. I have never had them come loose during a session, just during transport. It is very frustrating that everytime I have to adjust the screws and knobs in order to secure the mirror. I will probably be calling Orion to get a new set of them and replace them on the telescope. The fan on the bottom of the TA is the normal Orion fan and though it helps, and has help to lower the temperature of the mirror, it takes longer than an hour for this 2 inch mirror to reach equilibrium. I find I do not have any vibration from the fan, so I run it all night and that seems to help the mirror stay near or at equilibrium. Watch for the plug in that the fan has for the battery pack. Mine was loose when I installed it and I didn’t notice it until first light. I then had to reattach it to the two sided tape that holds it down.

Another item or items on the BTA that I do not like (and it was the same for the XT10 I have) are the screws that secure the bottom ring of the BTA and the mirror. I find the ones that Orion's manufacturer uses are cheap, and strip very easily. BE VERY CAREFUL if you loosen these to get out your Orion mirror (it has been true for my XX14i and the XT10). I have replaced both screws with better screws from Home Depot and Lowes (same screw, stainless steel if I remember right). Though the new screws are not black, I find having silver on the head of the screw helps me to see my scope better in the dark.

Next item is the mirror. I have had two friends test my mirror and one rated it a 95 strehl with a 1/8 PV wave and another rated it at 93 strehl with a PV wave of around 1/6 to 1/7. They both have been making mirrors and building their own scopes for 12 and 20 years. I trust them but am not sure that a Chinese mirror is that capable. No doubt on my Obsession mirror though. They both said that they have seen Chinese mirrors as good as mine and Chinese mirrors that are far worse with most in the 88 to 92 range. The Jupiter test done at a dark site (Lakeside, Utah and Wolf Creek, Utah with LVM of around 7.0 to 7.2) shows the mirror performing at what those who have viewed it would say is around a1/7 or 1/8 PV wave. What is it actually is what I would like to know? Well, with the recent fire and the need to clean the XT10’s mirror and being afraid that some residue would be more than dust or dirt, I posted locally and one of our clubs leading members suggested that I contact Steve Dodds for the cleaning. So I contacted Steve Dodds, owner of Nova Optical who lives near me and is a member of SLAS like I am. He answered my question on how clean the mirror in this case and graciously agreed to test my mirror. I haven’t had the time to have it tested, but am going to call him up and arrange a time since I am off next week and it is the week of full moon. If the views are great in my XX14i then why test it? Out of curiosity and to see where it really is at. I will post the results here after the actual test. Safe to say though, I am content with the mirror in my XX14i and it provides outstanding views and details of the DSO objects I love to hunt, and the planets I am getting into observing. If I compare the mirror to the Obsession 20” that I co-own, the mirror in the 20” is superior but not quite enough that I can see it except on those nights of just outstanding seeing. Then again, it could just be my eyes and they are middle age.

The tension knobs for the azimuth and altitude motion are not my favorites either as the altitude motion at times becomes too lose and I have to adjust that tension. I probably need some more weight on the back end because of the eyepieces I am using (Pentax XW).

Now for the one feature I HATE and yet also kinda of like when it works which is the Intelliscope. I am sure I hate this piece of equipment because of user error. I can get it working and get warp factors of .2 to .6 and then one night, I get a warp .24. The green light on the Intelliscope should be all red in my opinion, though some would argue that the green light is more suited for chart and pad observations. Bottom line though, its just too bright at a dark site. I like using it but I don’t trust it and end up confirming my object via a star hop so often I find I am using the good old Telrad, the 9x50 RACI Finder or my finder eyepiece and chasing down my objects. Perhaps one day I’ll get it figured out. Orion would do well to adjust the color on the Intelliscope and to offer the XX14 without the I with some cost savings. I will also say that I thought it was a help at Star Parties, it isn’t. I know the show objects and their locations by heart so I can get there quickly while talking; multi-tasking is easy for me. IF you don’t know the night sky, then the Intelliscope is an invaluable aid. My personal favorite use of the Intelliscope is to use it to confirm faint objects I go after.

The truss design is fine. It is screw in knobs that fit snug and secure into the BTA and then the UTA (upper tube assembly) . My warning though is to watch for the allen wrench knob to come lose and to have to tighte them. Check them when your home on a cloudy night. The UTA fits onto the truss design knobs easily, if you line them up first so they are all in position. The UTA is light, doesn’t weigh much and is easy to install. The duo speed focuser is not a Moonlight Focuser but is adequate for the job. Much better than the single speed crayford on the older Classic Telescopes. As you have probably seen, I have a Telrad base and a Telrad riser attached to mine and I have the RACI 9x50 scope. Love the RACI scopes. The UTA has a navigation knob and sometimes I use it, and other times I don’t. I’m sure with winter coming I’ll use it more so I don’t’ have to touch the steel.

In the UTA I replaced the allen wrench collimation screws with a set of Bob’s Knobs with the Milk Jug Washer modification on them. That modification has made a huge difference in get the scope collimated and quickly. The shroud is a must, and are the blue carrying bags you can purchase with it. They are a life saver for getting everything out to a site and picked up quickly. Label your tress poles either 1, 2, 3, 4 or A, B, C and D. That way they get back to their position quickly. Also on the upper UTA I dislike the 9x50 finderscope that comes with this dob. I have always used a RACI Finderscope and am use to that image while star hopping. IF I don't use the finderscope I use a wide eye angle, low power eyepiece that acts as my finder eyeypiece. So since I really only use the finderscope to help me either verify location or help me restart a hop when I have a hard time finding a faint object, I replaced the stock finder with the 9x50 RACI Finderscope. A friend has a Stellarvue F50M2 and I may consider putting that on if I can figure out how to mount it. The weight would be a concern though.

Take down is much longer than the XT10 Classic or the Obsession. Not sure why that is, but there are more parts to disassemble and to put into their blue bags. The Obsession stays in an observatory unless we take it out but setting it up and down is not any longer than the XX14i. The azimuth motions on the XX14i are not as smooth as a higher quality dob, but I have no problem with my azimuth motion or really with my altitude motion.

You will end up standing when your observing at Dobson's hole with this scope. I have a Starbound and a Stardust chair and I am at the maximum height for when using the chair at zenith. I usually get off the chair and stand or I sit at the highest rung or setting and use a step footstool I use during public outreach for kids to step up on and see in the eyepiece to put my feet on. I'm six-foot in height so that will give you some feeling of how it works for me. So I can sit and observe with our without the step stool, the step stool just makes it easier to sit if I am looking at Dobson's hole/zenith.

So to conclude, this telescope is a beast! It is a large telescope with OVER 100lbs on it assembled. This is not a scope for a wimp! It can be set up and taken down by one, but two makes it go faster. It is larger than its smaller cousin the XX12i which is portable and much lighter. If mobility is a factor, go for the XX12i. The BTA has some issues, the screws to hold the bottom ring, the overall weight of having a 2 inch mirror in there, and fitting it on the base. The base is one of the best features I feel and simply separating the top and bottom of the base helps in setup and transport. The primary mirror is fine in my telescope and I will post the findings when I have them. The secondary seems fine, but I am watching that one over time. I like the truss design, quick and easy to assemble as is the UTA. The dual focuser is an added plus, not a Moonlite but still nice. Be warned, this scope will make you think if you want to go in the backyard and set it up in the winter, knowing you have to take it down afterwards. It does me, but it doesn’t stop me, most (90% of the time) of the time.

Would I buy this scope again? Yes I would. It has terrific views, and is a very solid product. My dream scope is still a 15” Teeter and I think I’ll be placing an order for that come next spring or summer as some funds become available. For now, the Orion XX14i , the beast as I call it, and despite having some flaws, is a solid performer for what it is; an in between scope that is much better than the 8-12 inch starter dobs that Orion and Zhumell sell, and introduces a star gazer to what a larger telescope can do. It is my main telescope for now, and it serves me well. Heavy, yep. a tank, yep. Perfect, nope. Problems, yep. A work in progress, as all dobs are, yep. Worth the cost unless you need or want something lighter.


One More Update on the XX14i (April 12th, 2011).

It has almost been a year and I still really enjoy this telescope. It is not a premium scope and if you want premium motions, mirror and quality, buy a premium. However for the money, this is has been an excellent scope. My mirror is just fine and extremely good. I don't have too many issues outside of the weight on the bottom tube. I still have issues with the intelliscope and that needs to get fixed and remain fixed. Other than that, if I use the scope manually, which I do anyway most of the time, it is wonderful!

Now, I have had some emails and contact from other people about the XX14i vs a premium dob. I own a 20" Obsession and lets clear the air, the XX14i is not a 20" Obsession or even a 15" or 12.5" Obsession. But lets compare:

The standard 12.5" Obsession costs $2995.oo without any extras. Lets put on it a Argo Navis that adds $875.00 to the cost which brings the total cost up to $3870.00. Add $40.00 for a Telrad (assuming you mount it since Obsession charges $45.00), $169.00 for a shroud, that brings your total cost (not including shipping or a finder scope) to $4079.00. Now add their 9x50 RA StellarVue Finderscope for $195 and your up to $4274.00.

The Obsession 15 inch Classic costs $4695.00 and now add the Argo Navis for $875.00 and the Telrad at $40.00 (you install), a shroud at $179.00 and your at $5789.00 with no shipping and no finder scope. Add the finderscope and your at $5984.00.

Now lets look at a couple of other premium brands.

Teeter (I am in love with what Rob does and in time, I'll probably replace the 20" with a scope by Rob. I just have to get through the next couple of years with college etc. for my kids).

Teeter 15" Classic Telescope with Zambuto mirror: $5300.00. This comes with a Telrad, but no finder. Sky Commander costs $500.00, $50.00 for a mounting block for the box for the Sky Commander, 9x50 StellarVue Finder is $184.00, a shroud by Heather for $85.00 and a case to hold the truss tubes at $45.00. Total cost, $6164.00 (and that is an outstanding scope!) before shipping costs.

Now you could save $400.00 by going with a Waite Research mirror and your total cost is then $5764.00 without shipping.

Webster Telescopes offers a 14.5 inch dob right off for $6899.00 or $109.00 a month (I don't recommend buying on credit, save up and pay cash, cash makes no enemies). Want an Argo Navis digital setting circles, that adds $1000.00. Scope comes with a Telrad, a Shroud and a dual speed focuser. Total cost: $7899.00, or lets just say $7900.00.

Now all three or four of those scopes are marvelous, just wonderful pieces of equipment. You will not go wrong with any of them and you'll have a scope to last a lifetime.

Now for the Orion XX14i

Total Cost: $1799.95 (say $1800.00).

Extras: Shroud: $75.00; Padded Blue Cases: $269.95; Telrad: $40.00; Finder 9x50 RACI (I already had two so I just use one of those and the scope comes with a straight on inverted finder which I did not like) $84.95.

Total Cost: $2269.85 before shipping. I had mine ordered into the Clark Planetarium which saved me the shipping charge.

Now lets say your unhappy with the primary mirror and decide that you need to get it reconfigured. Optical Wave Laboratories lists prices for their re-figuring. For a 14" mirror it is $665.00 and the re-coating would cost $112.00 for a standard coating or $155.00 for a semi-enhance coat (what I would opt for). If you want an enhanced coating that would cost $297.00.

So now the cost of the XX14i would be as follows:

XX14i re-configured and standard coating: $3046.85

XX14i re-configured and semi-enhanced coating: $3089.85

XX14i re-configured and an enhanced coating: $3231.85.

So what is the cost savings? I'll use the re-configured XX14i with enhanced coatings at $3231.85.

Obsession 15" vs XX14i: Savings would be $2752.15.

Teeter 15" vs XX14i: Savings would be $2932.15

Webster 14.5" vs XX14i: Savings would be $4667.15.

So for me this is what it comes down to. My XX14i is doing well. I am learning the intelliscope system and for me, 90% of the time it puts it in the finder using a 21mm Stratus or 24mm Panoptic. From there I can observe it, study it and then work down in lower power. The XX14i isn't smooth buttery on its altitude or azimuth motions, but it is better than the XT10 I own and as well as the Z12 my friend owns. I don't like my motions too loose or its too easy to bump or lost the object, or have a slight breeze disrupt it. The truss system is not perfect, but outside of my first week, I have never had a problem getting the upper tube on.

I like the break apart base, and so far so good. I keep the upper part in one piece and the lower part in one piece. I can easily move it out of the house that way without banging it up (learned the hard way on that one). The bottom OTA weighs a lot at around 60lbs, but you have to know that going into this. It's a beast! I named mine Monster Mash because its heavy and mashes out the DSO's. I move the bottom OTA by a dolly, and lift it into my SUV. I have a bad L5/S1 and never have I had back problems moving this scope. Just think through what your doing.
I've said it before, I am very happy with my mirror. It is a very good mirror as tested and provides outstanding views (see my post from September 21st on what David Rankin had to say on the views of Jupiter). I won't be re-figuring or re-coating my mirror until it actually needs to be re-coated. So for me, I got a very good mirror (and from the sounds of it, many who have purchased it seem to feel that they also have a good mirror that provides good views) and the scope, though not perfect, saved me a ton of money and provides that step up I was looking for.

Now, having talked savings, two other items I must mention to be fair. First is the used market. My brother-in-law and I purchased our 20" Obsession used and it was the best thing in the world we did. We saved a lot of money. When he buys me out of my half at some point, (with the condition I can use the scope whenever I am at the observatory) I know that the price I am getting is the fair market price of the scope and that is because the Obsession held its value, for the most part. So if you want a premium scope, look used and be patience.

Option 2. If you KNOW you CANNOT afford premium, and don't want a 3 year wait from Discovery Telescopes, then I would highly recommend Dennis Steele over at DobStuff . Denis will make you a kit that you can assemble if your handy and you varnish and then assemble it. For a 14 inch scope that cost is $695, with no mirror. You can buy a mirror from him from Hubble Optics. Go to the link and search his site. I know when the XX14i is ready, I will get the mirror redone locally here in Herriman, and then send him the parts and the mirror to remake it for $895.00. Want a brand new 14 inch with a mirror in it? Dobstuff and Dennis will sell you a complete finished scope for$1995.00. That with $500.00 for Sky Commander brings you right into the realm of the XX14i at a lesser weight. If you already have the Telrad and the Finder your good to go at that point! If I had known of that option when I purchased the XX14i, I may have gone that route instead because I like what Dennis does. I had the opportunity to use one of his scopes when I was visiting a few months ago in the Bay Area. Wonderful! In the end, he'll end up re-doing the XX14i when the time comes.

Again, don't take me wrong. I love the Monster Mash/XX14i and enjoy it everytime I have it out. It is for me, my go to scope and I use it far more than any other. In the end whether you go with the XX14i or a scope from Dennis Steele at DobStuff or go on the used premium market or go premium, it is up to you. Only you can decide what you can afford and how to spend your money. All I've tried to do is to show that the XX14i is a great value even IF you have to have your primary redone. Dobstuff offers a great deal also at a really quality price that many can afford. Call him to find out what his schedule is like before building. I have never heard of any complaints on him. You could always do what I am going to do, buy the XX14i, enjoy it, and then in 4 years or so rebuild it with Dennis. No matter what, I hope this helps someone and keep enjoying the views from above.

Edit Again, June 2nd, 2011: There is now another option over at Starstucture Telescopes for a 12.5 inch Dob with a 12.5 Carl Zambuto mirror in it for #3295.00. This includes a shroud. You'll need to add a Telrad or Rigel Quickfinder to it, probably a RACI finderscope, a counterweight and then your ready to go. Here is the link. It is their 12.5 F5 TL series scope. If this had been available when I bought my XX14i, I would have gone with this scope, though it is 1.5 inches smaller in aperture, the gains would have been worth it.

Jay