Japanese manufacturer Vixen has been making excellent telescopes for decades. Although they haven’t quite achieved the name recognition of heavy hitters like Meade, Celestron, and Orion, many of their products are regarded as cult classics, and are worth seeking out.
Take, for example, Vixen’s ED81S, an 81mm f/7.7 ED refractor. It’s the smallest in a line of premium refractors that includes the ED103S and the ED115S. Behind its unassuming exterior lies an excellent refractor. It’s a cut above many of the similar Chinese-sourced ED series telescopes, but it costs less than competing models from high end manufacturers like Takahashi and TeleVue. Vixen achieves the lower cost by using merely “good” or “very good” mechanical assemblies and focusers, as opposed to the jewel-like construction that you see on a Takahashi. True to Vixen’s sometimes quirky personality, its specifications do not match anyone else’s. Many manufacturers make 76mm or 80mm refractors at f/6 or f/8, but it seems only Vixen would make an 81mm f/7.7 telescope.
Even if you don’t care about any of the above, you can still enjoy an excellent refractor. The optics are on par with the best in its class. The scope is light enough, and has a short enough focal length, that you can use it on a small alt-az mount like Vixen’s own Porta II. For best performance, use a sturdy equatorial mount. I put this one on a Celestron AVX.
I had the telescope out for two months in early 2021. During that time, I looked at the moon, galaxies and clusters, and did some imaging. Its optics have enough contrast that I had no trouble picking out dim galaxies in the Virgo Cluster. Globular clusters like M13 and M3 started to show resolution in their outer members, impressive for a 3-inch class telescope. Galaxy pair M81 and M82 were a pleasing sight with a TeleVue 24mm Panoptic eyepiece. If you’re a skilled astrophotographer, the ED81S is an excellent imaging companion. In late March of 2021, I made this mosaic of the moon on several clear nights (below) using a ZWO ASI 120MM-mini planetary imager. Over 8,000 individual frames were taken to complete this image.
Vixen has made a number of iconic, collectible telescopes through the years. These include: the Celestron-branded GPC102 equatorial achromat, the 8-inch f/4 R200SS Newtonian reflector, the quirky NA140/NA160 neo-achromats, and the outstanding 102mm ED and fluorite refractors sold under the Orion and Celestron nameplates. Could the ED81S join them as a future collector’s item? Perhaps. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll still enjoy a heck of a refractor in the meantime.
For more on the Vixen ED81S, see Ed’s video at: https://youtu.be/mRMq8Te0PD8