William Optics RedCat 51
This Cat's Out of the Bag
I know some people that name their telescopes. Usually this naming convention extends no further than 'The 71', or perhaps 'Fraccy', or rather more worryingly 'The Beast'. However should your telescope happen to be a William Optics RedCat then you are in possession of a precious jewel and with this in mind I've named my RedCat Ruby.
In your hands, the RedCat is small and its metal body is surprisingly weighty (glass is quite heavy too and this has 4 precision elements). Coated in a luxurious shade of cherry red, ever so slightly textured, the semi-mat finish is 'as you'd expect of this manufacturer', only, actually, it is even better than that and the entire package exudes the designers pride in his craft. I felt a sense of science fiction when first handling this instrument, as though it was from a time to come and initially I couldn't fathom out how it operated before realising the dew shield is also a protective cover. The solid dew shield unscrews to reveal the telescope body and rubber focus grip, the shield can then be screwed on to the front of the optical tube to provide generous dew or glare protection. The metal lens cap is etched with the RedCat smiling feline logo, which looks very nice indeed and houses the patented diffraction-spike focusing aid, very neat and incredibly useful.
The attachment ring from 'scope to the supplied reversible mini dovetail bar is very strong and adds to the hi tech look because it is a beautifully engineered offset clamp design that allows a very quickand safe method of connection. - The ability to quickly detach RedCat from your rig without tools or undue hassle is paramount to its second life in daylight. - Further along the short, sleek body you'll find the 360 degree marked camera rotator and finally the thread for your imaging train of choice.
The Cat That Got the Cream
Having enjoyed my wonderful William
Optics Star 71 4 element refractor for several years, when the first tasters of info about a 'four eyed fifty one' RedCat hit the usual media I was quick to order. Sight unseen, I just knew it would be good. A pin sharp, forgiving, multi purpose and properly portable machine made its way across half the planet (fascinating tracking info these days) and into my eager hands.
These items are so perfectly made and arrive in such pristine condition it takes a strong will to finally unwrap the goodies and spend a wonderful time examining what could easily pass, in this case, for the handle of a master crafted light sabre. Colour coded, glossy and mat brushed, designed with function and flair; it's like Space-X married Ferrari. The etched white markings of the rotator have the look of a fine watch and the locking thumbscrew is just like a winder. It rotates beautifully smoothly too, with no hint of nasty slop or stickiness to spoil your experience. Arriving at the 'Cat's tail end you will note – no traditional dual speed focuser.
In daylight photography, particularly wildlife, having a precise manual twist focus is a wonderful thing for quickly adapting to a hopping bird for
instance or a trotting deer. RedCat will spend only aproportion of its time with me playing star-scapes, as I am very keen to learn more about the local wildlife, by way of taking a snap or two and then enjoying some cider fuelled armchair research. The sturdy helical focus on the RedCat works very nicely and needs a little discussion since it is notusually seen on an astrograph. The large rubber grip is soft and tactile, designed to be easy to operate even if you are wearing gloves. Looking through the eyepiece it is very easy to see when you are in the focus zone. In short it feels familiar and operates perfectly, including the focus tension and locking ring essential for astrophotography. For night duties the inbuilt patented diffraction mask is sublime. I use a software frame and focus tool that allows a good inspection of the spikes and found it easy to focus in a jiffy.
The focus mask is a thoughtful touch and so is the embroidered RedCat logo on the well made padded bag, the 2 year warranty and the reversible styledovetail bar. These little things make a difference.
The three lives enjoyed by my 'Cat will actually increase as there are more things I have yet to try. Initially it has ridden high on its brother (a WO ZS103) as a stand alone instrument using an off axisguider to ensure its independence for when we go feral and this has worked superbly. Naturally the light weight makes for a premium portable system and here you have so many options; unguided ona tracker, guided on a mini EQ mount, DSLR, dedicated astro-cam, plus visual too.
The supplied carry bag has quite a bit of spare room and should you customise or replace the foam insert I have no doubt your bright minds could fit a lot of kit in it. Because it guided itself perfectly, it seemed obvious to use one clear night as a dual session, so I popped the cap off the '103' (oops that's almost 'scope naming right there) and enjoyed several hours outside. With hands in pockets eyeballing for shooting stars I watched Ruby RedCat drive her brother around as both 'scopes gobbled up star lighttogether. I did chuckle at the thought of comments such as 'Expensive guide scope mate', however as guiding and imaging were occurring simultaneously I allowed myself a very small and compact whiskery grin.
At 51mm objective it is precisely 1mm larger than my WO guide scope, so not very big at all by any standards but it is not without presence and gravitas. The FPL 53 glass has been crafted and collimated to form a razor sharp and fully (field + colour) corrected image. Focal length is 250mm at a reasonably fast ratio of F4.9 From my improver level of imaging perspective I could see I needed quite a bit more camera gain as my first test shots were sharp but lacked faint detail. The next session was much more pleasing and some extra gain on the ZWOASI071 brought that missing detail out. I used Andromeda as a benchmark for a field of view comparison and it looked perfectly lost in space in that context, yet all the features were clearly there. Point the RedCat to any part of the sky and you will find something interesting in that huge available vista. Let the RedCat track on a portion of the sky for a few hours with good imaging settings and it will play perfectly for you. I've yet to try a monochrome camera on it, I know I know I will be amazed, as to me it is saying 'Bi colour', which makes the manual focusing task between filters simple. Once I'd found and then locked the focus with the nifty lock ring I did slip the diffraction spike mask on several times during each session to check things and found no visible change, the spikes were where I'd left them.
For a sanity check on the quality of the day and night imaging capabilities of this beauty, simply feast away on the increasing number of excellent shots hitting the groups and forums. For the eye piece views, my short sighted and often recalcitrant eyes enjoyed wide starry fields by night and distance spotting across the Somerset levels by day using a basic zoom optic. With better eyes and half decent glass I imagine that it will punch far above its weight and size, just as it does in every other arena.Both of the cameras I've used 'over-sample' with this scope. The field of view and the sensor size mitigate this mismatch somewhat and although some might rightly insist on partnering it with the perfect camera, it appeared to be very forgiving and flexible to me. Mounting it wont be a huge problem. Perhaps a very cheap tripod is not a good idea because the thought of a RedCat rig toppling over is enough to give me kittens. For the record I used the ASI071 as mentioned and a Canon 600D / T3i which was piggybacked for the night work on the SkyWatcher AZEQ6. Popping it on the tiny iOptron Smart EQ Pro mount showed no issues and balance required just a single miniweight. It was probably a little heavy for my budget DSLR tripod, no doubt a slightly sturdier affairwould provide suitable service.
Purrfect Partners I would like, one day, to be in a far flung place with pristine skies, rigged and rolling with RedCat. Perhaps there is a camp and a fire, silhouetted figures might point up towards the mighty Milky Way that stretches and yawns in starry flow. Back here on a damp day in Somerset it is unlikely to be clear for a few nights now, so I have undocked kittycat and attached it to the DSLR again, where it is perched waiting for a familiar buzzard to return from a hunt. I have one eye on my work and another out of the window in case there is a chance to press the remote shutter clicker. When my gaze is drawn back to Ruby I am induced to smile and daydream further. I'm really looking forward to a different sort of experience with RedCat and there is definitely a sense of attachment towards my new companion.Ruby here really is a gem, you might say she is the cat's meow. Deep sky images courtesy William Optics, Wei-Ho Wang, Tim Cowell