Moonraker Nebula Class 4-inch f/12 refractor
A striking telescope that could be destined to be a classic, the Nebula Class 4-inch gives great views with very little false colour and excellent contrast. View a 360° image of the telescope here.
At a time when small, short focus apochromatic refractors are all the rage, it comes as quite a surprise to see a long focus achromatic refractor enter the market. Moonraker’s Nebula Class 4-inch f/12 instrument certainly stands out from the crowd.
Modern mass production techniques and developments in glass types have revolutionised the way telescopes are made, and indeed made high-quality telescopes more affordable than ever. From the sleek black gloss powder coat finish to the highly polished aluminium fixtures, this telescope certainly looks unique.
The refractor ships with Moonraker’s own tube rings and dovetail bar. These are hand made and beautifully finished, and they contribute to the overall look of the telescope in no small measure. The supplied carry handle also attaches to the tube rings. Unlike many of today’s high-end refractors, no hard case is included.
We found the Vixen/Synta profile dovetail bar allowed a good solid connection to our mount, though given the weight and size of the telescope it would be useful to have the larger ‘D’ type Losmandy-style dovetail bar as the majority of medium to large mounts use this bar for stability. This is a minor quibble, however. The supplied rack and pinion focuser proved positive and robust, holding a wealth of eyepiece and diagonal combinations without slipping.
Journeys around the heavens
We took the scope out under the night sky with our own star diagonal and a selection of eyepieces, and found that it delivered beautifully crisp images. The contrast was excellent, even under a moonlit sky. The telescope tube is both internally flocked and baffled. The extra-long dew shield is also internally flocked, ensuring that valuable photons are not lost by bouncing off reflective internal surfaces inside the tube.
The telescope shipped with a customised 50mm Vixen finder, which also delivered sharp images. It possesses an extra-long dew shield, and its large knurled thumbscrews made it very easy to align the finder with the telescope tube and make fine adjustment even with cold hands. The finderscope mounting brackets are reassuringly solid and screw directly to the mounting rings on the tube. The finder bracket is not removable, however, so care must be taken when transporting the instrument. One particularly nice feature is the ability to move between a single eyepiece and a binoviewer without the need for additional lenses or adaptors.
Using our own star diagonal and 26mm eyepiece we aimed at the Pleiades open cluster in Taurus: the stars were pin sharp across 95 per cent of the field of view. Moving to Vega in Lyra, we were impressed by a crisp, well-defined image that yielded extremely little false colour fringing. We tried increasing the magnification with a 3-6mm Televue Nagler zoom eyepiece, which delivered a tight, well-resolved star and airy disc.
Taking Vega slightly in and out of focus revealed even concentric rings, showing a good alignment of the lens elements. Moving over to the double star Alberio in Cygnus, we were greeted with a beautiful contrast of blue and gold. The colour rendition was superb even though the Moon was casting a bright glare at the time of review. And although the Moon was indeed very bright, the telescope was still able to deliver an exceptionally detailed view of the lunar surface, with a good tonal range even in the less than ideal observing conditions.
The Nebula Class refractor is certainly an observer’s instrument through and through. Its unique styling helps showcase a beautifully tactile and practical instrument. Hand made to a very high standard, the design would not look out of place on the set of a 1950s sci-fi movie, yet it also manages to look modern at the same time. Daring to be different always carries a degree of risk, and while the Moonraker’s appearance may not be to everyone’s taste, this telescope is a great example of British design and practical craftsmanship.
Handcrafted and distinctively styled, the Moonraker stands out from the first glance. Excellent build quality and attention to detail ensure a package that not only performs well, but is undeniably a custom instrument.
Mounted to the top of the tube assembly is the carry handle, and given the length and weight of the telescope this is a really useful addition. Lifting the tube into position to attach to the mount can be quite tricky with larger instruments, so anything that helps to avoid accidents is always welcome. Even here, using a knurled finish not only gives the handle a distinctive look, it also ensures a surface that is easy to grip.
The balance weight is nice and functional while yet again fitting the sleek and elegant design of the telescope perfectly. While these features may not be new to telescope making, they are well executed and uniquely presented, making this instrument instantly recognisable and very usable indeed. It draws much inspiration from vintage telescopes, but also moves forward and promises to be a future classic itself.
Finder - The supplied 7x50 optical finder is a straight-through type using a Vixen primary lens and eyepiece. Well mounted in sturdy rings, it performed well – giving sharp stars and a wide field of view. The eyepiece has a crosshair that enables targets to be reliably centred.
Tube rings - The highly polished aluminium fixtures and fittings not only look very striking, but are a key feature of the Moonraker design. The mounting rings are felt lined and reassuringly solid in construction, while the over-sized knurled thumbscrews allow adjustments to be made without fuss when wearing gloves.
Optics - The primary lens is hand figured by Istar Optical and has a broadband multicoating, giving it a slight yellow hue. It is a classic achromatic doublet design housed in a push-pull style lens cell. In use, the optics gave great views with very little false colour and excellent contrast.
Balance system - Fitted as standard, the Nebula Class refractor has a small counterweight on a sliding rail attached to the body of the telescope. This allows the tube’s balance to be quickly and easily adjusted when changing eyepieces or accessories of different weights. This is particularly useful with larger 2-inch eyepieces.
Focuser - The focuser is a rotatable rack and pinion unit with dual speed 1:10 ratio for greater focus control. It can accept both 2- and 1.25-inch eyepieces with the supplied adaptor. There are also options for customised Moonlite, Feathertouch or Baader focusers at additional cost.
This review originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.