If you read a lot, in just about any magazine, book or blog you hear about the worthlessness of the venerable 60 mm “Dimestore” telescope. Common knowledge is that they are worthless junk only suited for paperweights! Especially if you read forum posts in the refractor section of a popular astronomy website. Are these telescopes really that bad, especially since it was, for many of us, our first telescope?
A couple of years ago, just for fun, I ordered a Meade 60mm refractor on E-Bay. It was a 22 dollar purchase and that is with shipping! The mount was wobbly and the eyepieces were outdated designs of the .965 size. Huygens and Ramsdens all! It was the shorter F/11 configuration which showed some chromatic aberration or false color around brighter objects. By all common wisdom this telescope should be a totally worthless piece of junk!
It turned out to be a pretty good telescope! The actual quality of the objective lenses was quite good. Star testing allowed even star diffraction rings inside and outside focus. Even the poor quality eyepieces were quite usable. The main problem was the wobbly mount. These mounts tend to be light and totally unsatisfactory for anything but low power viewing and even then only with some tweaking. Still, with practice, you can use it as it is even at high powers. Tighten up all the screws and bolts of the mount then put a heavy weight on the spreader. This trick can help to to steady even light mounts by using a little Newtonian physics.
The image below is a color sketch of Mars made at the 2009 opposition when Mars was 18″ across. If you can see this level of detail on Mars with poor eyepieces and mount think how much better this could be if you had better quality eyepieces and mount. A solid mount and eyepieces work wonders even in this small scope! The biggest issue is desire! If you truly want to learn about astronomy and a 60 mm is all you have then you will find that it gives great views with a little practice.
Sketch of Mars with stock 60 mm Telescope
After using it as it was out of the box for awhile I made some improvements on it. A 1.25″ focuser from Telescope Warehouse on Ebay was added along with some modern, higher quality eyepieces. The mount was replaced by a simple (Meade Polaris) mount that is way smoother than the stock mount. A dielectric coated diagonal was used with Plossl eyepieces as well as 2 TMB eyepieces and a couple Plossls. Turns out that it was not Tele-Vue quality but it was good for the price. Total cost of of scope and updating, 45 dollars, not including eyepiece and diagonal. Then I gave it away to a budding young astronomer! Overall with a little fix up, you can have a solid scope for a grab and go experience. In fact I am still use another 60mm scope that I upgraded. It is the scope I grab when I just want to set something up quickly and look at a few brighter objects.
Recently I purchased for 15 dollars an old F/12 60 mm refractor. It is on a light equatorial mount. It is a generic English brand that used an imported Asian scope. There is little information on this scope but it works quite well and has very little chromatic aberration. To complement this purchase I also bought a Bresser Alt/Az mount and use it for a grab and go platform. The Bresser has already seen my Short Tube 80 mm and my Meade 90 mm F/8.8 and handled them very well.
In the near future I plan on attaching the F/12 60 mm telescope to a new Bresser mount. Right now it is cloudy, 5 degrees with snow still coming down so this experiment may be postponed for awhile. It will be interesting to see how this old telescope performs on a better mount. It takes me back to my early teens when I peer through the venerable 60 mm!