Astro-Physics 160 EDF Refractor

This is the crown jewel of my astronomical gear.  This is the telescope of a lifetime.  It is a 6.3" (160mm) Astro-Physics 160 EDF refractor on an Astro-Physics 900GTO equatorial mount.  The picture to the left shows my 7 year old daughter standing next to it to give you a sense of scale.  This is an updated picture taken 7-13-09 with my AP900 mount.   What Stradivarius is to violins, Astro-Physics is to telescopes.  These telescopes are as much a precision astronomical instrument as a work of art.  Over the years, Astro-Physics telescopes have built up a following some religions would envy.  They have a consistent uncompromising pursuit of the highest quality along with an impressive resume of work from some of the very best astrophotographers in the world. They are as close to optical and mechanical perfection as money can buy.  Where most things we buy in life tends to depreciate over time, these telescopes rise in value.  

Just to give you some perspective, I've been into amateur astronomy since I was a high school student back in 1980.  In 1994 I finally had a stable job and some disposable income and I got the urge to get a really nice telescope.  After a lot of research I really wanted an Astro-Physics refractor but at the time I couldn't justify paying over $4500 for a 7" (180mm) telescope that didn’t even include a mount.  As a compromise I bought a Meade 10" LX200 in early 1995 for around $2800 and that telescope even came with a computerized robotic mount.  Astronomers will tell you that aperture (the size of the primary lens or mirror) wins almost every time for everything important to observing through a telescope, and with the Meade I could get a bigger telescope for a lot less money.  The bigger the telescope, the more light it can gather and the higher the theoretical resolution thus everything else being equal the brighter and clearer objects will appear.  I really enjoyed my LX200 for over 10 years and logged thousands of hours under the night sky with it.  It was a fine instrument, but it wasn’t in the league of an Astro-Physics refractor in terms of its mechanical and optical quality.  In those 10 years the Meade depreciated to less than half it's original value while the used Astro-Physics 180 refractors now easily get $12,000 to $15,000 on those rare moments they actually come up for sale!  

One beautiful night at the Grand Canyon Star party in 1996 I looked through an Astro-Physics 130 refractor at the Veil nebula.  As I gazed into that eyepiece the image became tattooed on my brain.  Even though the Astro-Physics was half the size in terms of diameter (providing 1/4 the light gathering power) of my Meade the view was strikingly better.  It wasn't brighter, but it was far more pleasing to view with tighter stars and more contrast.  The stars looked like specks of diamond dust sprinkled on a black velvet sky.  When I turned the focus knob it felt butter smooth and ultra precise.  The out of focus stars were perfect circles that would almost snap into perfect focus.  There was no image shift and no bloated stars, both being a problem with my Meade.  This was a whole new experience for me and the seed was planted.  On that night, I knew I would someday own such an instrument.

And so, all through the late 1990's I kept wanting an Astro-Physics refractor, but when it came to actually putting my money where my dreams were I would always back down.  That is until November 19th, 1999 when I finally placed my name on the very long waiting list for the Astro-Physics 155 EDF with the 4 inch focuser.  At the time the wait was supposed to be about 3 years and the telescope was $6800.  3 years came and went and I went through some major life changes with getting married, starting a new family, several moves and a complete change of careers.  Life had turned me around so much I had completely forgotten about the Astro-Physics refractor.  Then November 29th, 2006, just over 7 years after placing my name on the list, I get a call.  I should say "The call".  My name had finally come to the top of the list and I could finally place an order for the new Astro-Physics 160 EDF.  The 160 is a new design that replaces the Astro-Physics 155 EDF I originally was on the list for.  Needless to say I was in shock.  My email address, phone number and physical address had changed at least 3 times since I originally put myself on the waiting list.  The people of Astro-Physics had actually had to track me down by finding and calling my mom!  The new Astro-Physics scope now sells for $9300 and with this happening out of the blue I wasn't psychologically prepared to put that kind of money out for a telescope (sound familiar?).  Seeking wisdom I went on Cloudynights, an internet chat forum for amateur astronomers and put the question out there.  "Should I get this scope?"  The answer was a resounding "Are you crazy!  Why aren't you getting a second mortgage or cashing in your 401K right now to pay for it?"  It turns out, due to the very high demand and very low supply of Astro-Physics telescopes and almost decade long waits to actually order one, used Astro-Physics telescopes sell for more than new ones.  One had recently sold on Astromart for over $12,000, an instant $3000 profit!  It was a no lose situation.  Worst case is I buy the scope and turn right around and sell it for a profit.  In fact I had already lined up a buyer if I decided to sell the scope.  

It only took a day or two of thinking and talking with my wife and I was sold.  I wasn’t going to pass this opportunity up… not this time!  I emailed Astro-Physics back and told them that I'd take the scope and quickly shifted money around to get the 50% down payment together.  As I thought about the prospect of actually owning an Astro-Physics refractor, I knew that I wanted to keep it.  The prospect of selling it almost seemed blasphemous, like selling my child.  Money comes and goes in life, but this was an opportunity to own my absolute dream telescope and I wasn't going to let money stand it the way.

My new Astro-Physics 160 EDF has arrived after only 2642 days!  Here is a picture of it just after opening it's box for the first time.  It was "born" February 5th, 2007 at 1:30 PM weighing in at 27 lbs (12.3kg) and 44.5 inches (1,130 mm) long and 6.5 inches in diameter.  I had it's new home all ready for it with Astro-Physics rings I bought used on Astromart, and a brand new Orion Atlas German equatorial telescope mount.  I also had purchased on Astromart an almost new Astro-physics Maxbright diagonal and a 5mm LE Takahashi eyepiece to complement my 31mm Nagler, 17mm Orion Stratus and 9mm TMB Planetary eyepiece so it could have a diet of only the purest of well aged stellar and nebular photons.

The telescope came well boxed and in it's cocoon like Astro-Physics case wrapped in plastic.  Everything about this telescope just shouted out quality from the packaging to the paint.  I gingerly lifted the scope out of it's box and placed it on my couch.  27 lbs is a lot of weight when it is something this precious.  Imagine lifting a 27 pound newborn!  I then double checked to make sure everything was tight and secure on the mount before I would trust it to carry this telescope that costs over 7 times as much as the mount itself and took that many years to get.  Everything looked good so I placed the scope into the rings and secured them.  The telescope now looked huge sitting atop the mount.  It towers over my 12" Lightbridge.

You can read the first light report here.  

Here is me next to my AP160 on the summit of Mt. Lemmon outside of Tucson AZ May 2007

Update: 7-13-2009
I've had the AP160 for almost 3 years now.  It continues to impress me each time I use it.  Last summer (2008) I purchased a used AP900 mount as I had pushed the Orion Atlas mount as far as I could.  For imagining I needed something better.  With this scope my imaging has improved 1000%.  I still need to get a better camera, a field flattener and matching focal reducer to realize the full potential of this scope.  They are on my wish list and will be acquired as finances permit.