Field Telescope – the real deal

You may have read a post I wrote ages ago about an inexpensive Indian-made “training” telescope? Well, here’s the real deal. A while back I was lucky enough to acquire a very nice 1917-vintage old-timey brass military telescope to use alongside my 1900-ish deer stalker’s telescope, and of course the half-sized, Indian-made “decorative” telescope.

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1917-vintage Broadhurst, Clarkson & Co Sig., Tel (MkIV) in its natural environment, being used as an aid for field panorama sketching. Seen here a couple of months back on a mid-winter swag walk in the mountains west of Sydney.

Here’s a tip if you’re ever looking at one of these old telescopes online or at a second hand store with a view to buying it – If the seller says it must be broken because it won’t focus, then you’re probably very close to getting yourself a bargain. Why is that? These multiple draw telescopes won’t focus if you just twist the eyepiece. In fact, if you do that with this particular model, the eyepiece will unscrew and fall off! Nope, to focus these you must push in or pull out the last draw tube until the image comes into focus.

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Inexpensive “Training” Telescope

Having recently acquired a 1910s-vintage Scottish deer-stalker’s telescope in need of some restoration work, I started looking around for some modern alternatives that didn’t cost a million dollars on which I could learn some of the specific fieldcraft and field panorama sketching techniques which rely upon the use of an old-fashioned telescope.

After several hours trawling eBay, Amazon and Etsy for suitable candidates I became interested in one of the many Indian made “decorative” brass telescopes. If you’ve read my fake prismatic compass identification post you’ll get a vague idea of my opinion on these Indian-made fake instruments. I’m not generally a fan, but I decided to test one out thinking that even if the fake telescope was non-functional, being brass, it’d be a nice decorative object for the study. I paid less than you’d expect and four business days later, DHL delivered the package.

A vendor's image of a similar telescope.

A vendor’s image of a similar telescope.

The telescope appears to be a 1/2 to 2/3rds scale copy of a military Scout Regiment Telescope. Whereas the original measures over 30 inches, the ‘scope in question opens to a mere 18 inches with the shade extended. First impressions were not favourable. The (genuine) leather looked like someone had actually wiped their nether regions with it, but worst of all, it was tiny – smaller than I had expected.

It’s a three-draw telescope with an extending brass sun/glare shade, an approximately 40mm objective lens and a what I would estimate to be around 15x magnification. My 6×30, 8×30 and 7×50 binoculars don’t even come close to the power of this dinky decorative brass telescope. It will focus from about 5 metres to infinity. After eventually working out how to actually focus it, I marked the infinity focus pull on the third draw and can reliably spot aircraft against a blue sky. It gives a great image of the moon, which appears large in the eyepiece with craters visible. In short it’s fine for fieldcraft work, observation and field panorama sketching. It might even be OK for birdwatching – it can catch aircraft after all.

Two issues I have found with the telescope are that it’s difficult to use off-hand and unsupported. To get the most out of it I’ve been resting it against a convenient tree to steady it. A tripod or a bipod improvised from hiking poles would be be even more effective. The other issue is that the optics are flawed. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work, just that the edges of the image can be a little blurry. It works surprisingly well for such a little instrument, but don’t expect Negretti & Zambra levels of quality in either the optics or the craftsmanship. It’s cheap and cheerful.

Oh, and speaking of blurry – I discovered that with these types of telescopes, turning the viewfinder/eyepiece to focus it doesn’t work at all. You have to push in the 3rd draw until the image comes into focus. The focus then holds very well.

If it fails I’ll let you know, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s a useable telescope in a compact size with decent power. Now I just need a tricorn hat, an eyepatch and a parrot.

Some photos of the item in question –

Closed up with leather lens covers and carry strap. Leather is very dry,but improves with the application of dubbin.

Closed up with leather lens covers and carry strap. Leather is very dry,but improves with the application of dubbin.

Covers off.

Covers off.

Extended to the full 18 inches.

Extended to the full 18 inches.

Fake manufacturer name and date. Isn't London a suburb of Mumbai?

Fake manufacturer name and date. Isn’t London a suburb of Mumbai?

View of the objective lens. Not all that wide, but still gives decent magnification.

View of the objective lens. Not all that wide, but still gives decent magnification.

A view of the dodgy stitching. One day, when I can't sand it any more, I'll replace the leather sheathing on this telescope.

A view of the dodgy stitching. One day, when I can’t stand it any more, I’ll replace the leather sheathing on this telescope.

For information on field telescopes and why they are useful to the outdoors enthusiast, keep a watchful eye for the next installment of the field sketching series.