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.

Field Sketching Outfit

Field Sketching was originally a military skill developed to a fine art in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

In a time of hit-and-miss topographic mapping, field panoramic sketches drawn/painted from a known point on the map were invaluable for allowing officers to visualise the terrain they would be working in. With the advent of portable photographic equipment and aerial photography in particular in the early 20th Century, it started to become obsolete as a military skill. By the end of the 2nd World War, the fine art of field sketching had all but died out, although it has continued to be used by snipers, intelligence personnel and special forces to a far lesser degree.

A stunning WWI panoramic field sketch in watercolour painted by a member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Palestine in 1917. Image courtesy NZ Government Archives.

A stunning WWI-era military panoramic field sketch in watercolour painted by a member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Palestine in 1917. Image courtesy NZ Government Archives.

Field sketches were drawn and sometimes were painted in order to illustrate subtle details and changes in vegetation and terrain. Destined to be used once and then discarded, it’s a miracle that any of these field sketches have survived the rigours of time and neglect. We’ll cover the actual art of field sketching in a later post.

To bring the lost art of field sketching back to life, it all starts with the equipment. In this case, a Field Sketching Outfit. Inspired by expeditionary artist Maria Coryell-Martin’s field-appropriate Art Toolkit (http://expeditionaryart.com/shop/product/art-tool-kit/) and knowing a little bit about the methodology of military field sketching from various 19th and early/mid 20th Century manuals on the subject, I have put together a period-style field sketching outfit.

Field Sketching Outfit with accoutrements.

Field Sketching Outfit with its accouterments – a compass and case, field glasses and mini-tripod. Mini-tripod is entirely optional.

The outfit is based on an Australian-made 1943 vintage No. 2 Mk.I General Service map case and it’s turned out to be the perfect size for this purpose.

The map case open, showing the general layout of the paper and equipment inside.

The map case open, showing the general layout of the paper and equipment inside.

Inside the map case cover are sewn loops and pockets which now contain the following:

  • Tin of watercolour paints
  • Vintage celluloid protractor with string
  • 6-inch metal ruler
  • 3 x assorted brushes
  • An HB pencil
  • A 2B pencil
Watercolour paints tin along with spare brush, short metal ruler and a protractor.

Watercolour paints tin along with spare brush, short metal ruler and a vintage protractor.

Clipped to the map board are the following:

  • A cello bag containing a small supply of general purpose paper towels
  • A field message notebook – contains gridded pages which are great for noting down fine detail before transferring to the paper
  • An A5 spiral-bound book of 30 pages of watercolour/sketch paper
To the mapboard are clipped a notebook, watercolour/sketch paper and a bag of paper towels.

To the mapboard are clipped a notebook, watercolour/sketch paper and a bag of paper towels.

An acetate map overlay sheet covers and protects the paper when the case is closed up. On the back of the map board has been fitted a jury-rigged tripod mount for use with a standard photographic tripod, or in this case, with an Ultrapod II compact tripod spraypainted green. This allows the case’s map board to be mounted as a plane table for sketching and watercolour painting. I find working with the outfit on my lap while I’m sitting to be the most comfortable method in the field, but a tripod mount gives some more options.

Back of outfit showing tripod mounting block.

Back of outfit showing tripod mounting block.

Other equipment used with the outfit includes:

  • Prismatic Compass with case and lanyard
  • Map
  • Field Glasses
  • Mini Tripod (optional, but useful for OP work)
  • Shoulder strap

Next post in this series will cover the methodology behind an accurate field sketch.