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Back to VC200L

Vixen VC200L - 200mm F/9 Catadioptric Telescope Review

By John Slinn 16/05/2011

In March 2010, I had my first chance to use the Vixen VC200L at the Kelling Heath star party. Neil Phillipson of Dorking-based Astronomia was generous enough to lend me a new model straight out of the box for one night, so I mounted it on my Skywatcher NEQ6 and selected M64, the Black Eye, as my target.

I spent all night imaging this one object using my unmodified Canon 450D at the prime focus. I didn’t own a focal reducer and at f9 I had to have 10 minute sub exposures as a minimum to get some good data. I managed 17x10 minute subs at ISO 800 and was very pleased with the result:

M64

I am also a member of Stargazerslounge.com, an online astronomical club, and read Richie Jarvis’s review of the VC200L. Afterwards I got in touch with the person who was responsible for organising these reviews to see if it was possible for me to have a long term lend of this impressive telescope. Opticron handed me the scope at Astrofest 2011.

First impressions were firstly how light it is for an 8” reflector. I reckon an EQ3 could probably handle the OTA with ease - on my Losmandy G11 in my observatory, I was well within the stated loading limit.

The Vixen has corrective optics between the secondary reflector and focuser assembly, to achieve the flat field craved by astrophotographers. The only visual evidence of this was the slightly square looking stars caused by the large spider vane and the aforementioned corrective optics. However, this was not a problem to correct later in the processing by using the Kappa Sigma method.

The OTA also has a very handy carry handle on the top of the tube to aid transport - it made me very confident when moving the tube between my observatory and when I was imaging in the field using my NEQ6.

The focuser is a rack and pinion affair with a locking screw to secure the focus point. Although basic, it worked very well and although I would’ve preferred a dual speed, the stock focuser did not slip at all in all of the 3 months I had it.

By now I had got the 450D modified by The Astronomiser and the first target I went for was NGC 2440, a small planetary nebula in Puppis which I had tried to image the previous year using my 4” Stellarvue refractor but at the time I really needed more magnification. The resulting image was very encouraging, and vindicated the effort of trying to use 8”of aperture:

NGC 2440

Next I tried M81 in Ursa Major and again I was pleased with the result. The delicate structure of the spiral shape in silhouette against the brighter core region really came through clearly, and took the colour techniques I had learned in Photoshop very well. 14x5 minute subs at ISO 1600.

M81

Further success was enjoyed with M5, the stunning looking globular in Serpens.
This was a very photogenic picture at this image scale, and the older red stars came out very
well, interlaced with the younger blue ones

M5

And one of my best images so far, M16 the Eagle nebula in Serpens, where you can see clearly the ‘Pillars of Creation’ made so famous by that iconic Hubble image. 18x5 minute subs at ISO 800.

M16

All in all I was enjoying using the Vixen VC200L, the lightness of the OTA was paying dividends by not overstretching my mount, and I was getting to grips with the focuser with practise.

The only problems I was getting was the aforementioned squarish looking stars from the secondary and finding that the focus was shifting with a change of temperature as little as a couple of degrees or so. This was frustrating and needed constant attention and checking throughout the night.

Finally the time came for me to send back the Vixen to Opticron, but as luck would have it, just before I was due to give it back, we were treated to a bright supernova in a dim galaxy of 13th magnitude. NGC3972 was host to SN2011 which at the time of writing (16th May 2011) is still brightening and is now estimated at 12th magnitude.

Both the following images were taken two days apart on the 2nd and 3rd May this year - 1st was 16 subs at ISO 800 and the 2nd was 7 subs at the same settings

NGC3972

 

NGC3972

Overall I feel that this telescope is a very capable instrument for the astro imager as well as a great visual tool too (I used it several times to view Saturn as well as other sights and all were excellent). At the price quoted for a corrected flat field aperture of 200mm, it is good value for money, and one I would be very happy to own myself.

With the exception of the M64 image all of the images in this review were taken using my modified Canon 450D at the prime focus and at F9 focal ratio. I think that a focal reducer would have been useful to reduce the exposure times needed. I don’t own one currently but I know Richie Jarvis used one in his review and ended up buying the Vixen for himself, so it must have worked very well!

All images copyright John Slinn 2011. Used with permission.