Company Seven is one of the few remaining telescope specialty companies operating in the Americas and serving an international clientele. We maintain an unrivaled showroom and provide a variety of services including repair, collimation, and refurbishment. We also offer telescope and lens evaluation and certification services. This testing can be subjective where experienced technicians evaluate the lens on calibrated targets and provide an opinion based on what they see. Or we can employ objective methods of testing where analysis results in documentation being provided.
Right: Star test diffraction pattern typical of a Questar 3-1/2 telescope, one of the finest telescopes in regular production.
Company Seven Remains Special In The Amateur Community:
Over the recent several decades we observed dramatic swings of innovation and also of quality control in the marketplace. This has been paralleled by a decline in the number of community oriented specialty companies so that most retailers of telescopes today are camera stores that incidentally sell telescopes (and washers and dryers, etc.). More and more retailers are 'E-Tail' oriented, a business model that prompts them to avoid direct interaction with the customer whenever possible. The larger volume oriented sellers are rewarded by many manufacturers with the best pricing and terms, and with optimal promotional placement. Most of these retailers can not understand the qualities of the telescopes they sell since they drop ship orders directly from the factory to customer; this practice is economical for them since they never need to pay for warehouse space or take time to look inside the box then repack it. Over recent years some now claim to inspect telescopes, but they usually lack facilities and competence (if not integrity) to do this proficiently so that some certificates are not worth the paper they are printed on. And when packing or shipping damage or other problems arise these merchants can simply blow off the customer, referring them away and over to a usually understaffed factory customer service department.
But Company Seven is not a volume oriented company. Instead our business model is based on working to insure our select clientele becomes highly successful. This is more important to us than our growing to beyond manageable proportions. We also have another side of our company that is involved optics and other technologies for government and industry, and our consumer side can remain idealistic promoting our hobby while we can be paid along the way. While our model has its strengths there are some few weaknesses too. Regardless, C7 and our customers have prospered in a retail environment due to our selecting to offer good products, our experience and competence, and our customer-advocate mentality where we protect our customers from disappointment and stress. We operate on the principle that we work for our customer, while the manufacturers of our products in turn work for Company Seven.
Our quality control programs begin well before the sale by choosing products that are not likely to disappoint. We are looking for products that bring the basic qualities that with some fine tuning by Company Seven will make our customers happy. By us doing the 'beta testing' and adjusting as needed of new products, etc. we truly are offering nothing that we would not recommend to our own friends. This means there are many telescopes marketed that Company Seven will not sell.
Consider the case of a mass-produced 114mm (4-1/2 inch) aperture 'go to' telescope model made by one of the major makers and sold by one of their mail order retailers. I conveyed our experience to the maker of this telescope by E-Mail:
"The telescope was given to us (Company Seven) by a visitor who became frustrated with it and with the poor customer service he experienced with your company. He claims he will never buy another XXXXX brand telescope again. I tried to sugar coat this, but since virtually nothing on his 'go to' 114 telescopes works.... The attached photo shows how far off center the attachment hole for the Secondary Mirror Holder from a XXXXX brand 114 telescope is drilled. This is so far off that this telescope can not be properly collimated.
Right: Secondary Mirror Holder of a telescope NOT sold by Company Seven, shown removed for inspection.
I asked one of our techs to go over this telescope to see if we could at least get this telescope working to a point where we could give it to some kid? Our tech suggested we'd spend $400 of effort to make this a $100 telescope, so the best place for this telescope would be the dumpster. When I pressed him he asked me in reply "but why would you do this to a child?"
Click on image to see enlarged view.
It was during the most recent visit of Comet-Halley (1985-1986) when first noted the quality control at most mass production telescope factories was notably compromised to increase production. With the goal of reducing returns and improving customer success we instituted our own quality control programs. Our programs evolved over time from initially merely looking inside to insure all parts arrived intact and were all there in the box, to unpacking then assembling and testing electronics and the optics to assure nominal operation. By doing so we also gained uncommonly high degree of experience: we came to know exactly how the focuser of that model telescope should feel at its best, we know how well the optics can be made, etc.
Right: a newly arrived Universal Astronomics UniMount as delivered by Federal Express to Company Seven. It appears as though this carton was slammed down very hard onto a corner or edge to do this bending. And 'No', this FedEx modification to the UniMount did not make it work better.
Click on image to see enlarged view.
The next phase of our quality control process is to actually see each arriving product: did it arrive here in one piece? So we check the contents to assure they are complete, have optimal cosmetics - no dings or other notable issues, their mechanisms have smooth and accurate operation, we will insure the optics we deliver will be among the best examples of what the factory can produce. In some cases we actually improve upon what is delivered by the factory upgrading this or that, improving the feel of a mechanism, improving the baffling, etc. Company Seven's team is in an uncommonly good position to keep our finger on the pulse of the qualities of incoming products because virtually every order that could vary in quality control or suffer damage in transit is shipped though Company Seven first.
Left: OK, just to be fair to Federal Express here is a carton as delivered to Company Seven by United Parcel Service containing a very high-tech Leica GEOVID range finding binocular. This parcel appears to have collided very hard with something to do this deep crushing.
Some Of Our Favorite Finds (no doubt we will add more over time): note we do poke more than a fair share at Meade Instruments Corp. here, but in fact we write more about Meade because we recommend and sell more of their telescopes in these classes than those of others. Furthermore, over the recent year or two in particular we have see dramatic improvements in the quality control along with positive changes of their customer service. As Meade moved production from the USA to overseas we have seen some 'teething pains', the most amusing of these are listed below.
Above: HOW MANY MM = 14 INCHES? someone at Meade Instruments obviously forgot. Images taken by Company Seven
during failed acceptance evaluation of a new Meade 14 inch telescope S/N 107674 on 19 May 2009. This is a 14 inch aperture (355.6mm)
model with a focal length of 3,556mm. But the Corrector Lens Retaining Ring read "D=406.4mm F=4064mm". Meade shipped this but most
retailers and their intended customer would never have realized this. We poked fun about this in our fictionalized Meade ACF/IA Series Telescopes news release.
Above: Thru focus star test. Images taken by C7 during failed acceptance testing of a new Celestron C-8 telescope S/N 889108 on 10 December 1994.
The image should show distinct, concentric, smooth rings resembling the image at top right; instead the pattern defocused into a "ring of pearls". The optics have
multiple problems introduced during manufacturing and yet Celestron shipped it and most retailers (and their intended customer) would have never known it.
How could Celestron have shipped something like this to Company Seven, of all their retailers, that was not even tested on prisoners?
Above: JUST PLAIN DUMB someone at Meade Instruments labeled one side of the OTA correctly LX-200 ACF, the other side LX-90 ACF. Images taken by Company Seven
after failed acceptance evaluation of this new Meade 12 inch telescope S/N 107409 received 24 March 2009. Relegated to temporary display status at our showroom until
the label can be replaced; otherwise this telescope was collimated then tested just fine.
Click on images to see enlarged view.
"Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise" Company Seven continues to experience instances where manufacturer claims do not correspond to the realities of what are delivered, this is why we prefer to check the systems that arrive here. The amateur rarely knows exactly what they are buying, while most sellers do not know or care to know - counting on the customer to simply assume "this is as good as it gets".
Consider the following experience with two 16 inch mirrors made for Newtonian optical tubes. The maker of the mirrors above was informed in advance that these mirrors were to be sent first to Company Seven for evaluation on behalf of our customer, then on to the manufacturer for assembly into a new system. The mirrors arrived at Company Seven in September 2009:
Upon arrival here our simple but effective subjective preliminary evaluations determined these mirrors do not meet our criteria, there was no justification to proceed with objective test methods. We contacted the maker of the telescope, they source their mirror optics from another shop that is generally well regarded. When we contacted the maker of the telescope to discuss their standards they guessed the optics should be 1/4 or maybe 1/6 wave Peak to Valley however, they do not demand a specification in their procurement neither do they test the optics upon arrival. This is not unprecedented in the industry since makers of some telescopes can be talented mechanical engineers but lack optical testing facilities and experience. The maker explained that 'no other customer complains about our optics' - we hear this quite often from amateur oriented manufacturers. Company Seven returned both the mirrors to the telescope maker while awaiting replacements - these of course will be tested by us. Our customer was notified and replied:
"Thanks for uncovering the serious flaw with the optics. This is why I feel much better having Company 7
inspect the optics before they are put in the telescopes."
One might argue these mirrors may be a reasonable value for the price paid since to have a professional optics lab make mirrors to a legitimate 1/4 wave could be far more costly. Regardless, most of our clients prefer to know so they can choose from a position of having been well informed.
Above: left - images of a new 14 inch telescope rear cell taken by C7 during acceptance testing 18 June 2010.
The optics were adjusted and passed however, some mechanics failed (left) but were remedied (right) by Company Seven.
Above: Thru focus star test at C7 during failed acceptance testing of new catadioptric telescope on 16 May 2011.
The optics are made well with Poisson's spot visible at center however, the system was failed and returned to the manufacturer.
Do you see what is obvious to us?
Above: this Questar Questar 50th Anniversary Model telescope Dew Shield/Lens Shade was bent during rolling, resulting in a ridge spanning
the length (left to right) of the star chart. This was found during failed acceptance testing at Company Seven, 21 Feb 2011 (34,680 bytes).
The finer the telescope and the more costly it is, the higher will be the standard that it must meet at Company Seven.
Mouse over the image to see alternative view (34,241 bytes).
Above: frame clips (40,121 bytes) from a .mp4 video demonstrating image shift in a telescope. This may be seen to one degree or another when
moving the focus control of many consumer Cassegrain style telescopes when the Primary Mirror moves back and forth to focus. In this example a star
jumps rapidly left to right across the blinking crosshairs of a 12mm illuminated reticle eyepiece, with just the slightest touch of the focus control.
Click on the image above to bring up a pop-up window with the .mp4 video (189,847 bytes). Note this has no audio track.
Above: encoder discs received with two newly arrived XT-10i IntelliScope telescopes (54,909 bytes). At right the defects are circled for easier identification (60,494 bytes).
The magnets are nicked and because of this the customer, who probably would never have seen this since these arrive built-in within another component, would not have been
able to get the telescope to point accurately. Worse than not working, it would have appeared to work but inaccurately and getting worse over the observing session.
Click on the image to see the enlarged view (275,290 bytes).
Above: correct and factory-defective Leica DUOVID 8 + 12 x 42 binoculars at Company Seven (50,928 bytes).
The black binocular in this image is a DUOVID 8 + 12 x 42, can you see the anomaly? It was assembled at the factory with the improper designation components, and
at first glance might be confused for the notably larger DUOVID 10 + 15 x 50 binocular. It is amazing to see how such an item could have made it through so many
stages of quality control at the factory and at Leica USA, but it just goes to show that where there are humans involved then there can be an occasional mistake. The black
DUOVID binocular was returned by Company Seven to Leica for exchange For comparison we show it alongside a true DUOVID 8 + 12 x 42 with green armor covering.
Where will you choose to buy your own Leica?
Click on image to see enlarged view (137,751 bytes)
Above: new Orion XX-14g 'go to' astronomical telescope upper cage assembly, as it arrived at Company Seven (50,525 and 27,117 bytes). Close up view shows its bent
Secondary Mirror Spider, and in the reflection of the Secondary Mirror one can see an open hole in the upper cage wall where a fastening bolt worked loose and fell out.
This telescope was poorly assembled in China, then came apart while in transit damaging the front cover, front cell trim ring, secondary Spider, and scraping the paint of the cage.
The damaged components of the XX-14g were replaced by by Company Seven from our stock to expedite delivery to our customer. The damaged components were returned to Orion.
Most companies selling optics today are E-Tailers who never look inside, can not be bothered about giving much good advice before the sale, and they will want to be bothered even less by you
for any service needs after the sale. A few other shops out there claim they check what they sell, yet few return anything to the distributor. Where will you choose to buy your own telescope?
Click on image to see enlarged views (202,518 and 106,448 bytes)
Above: new Losmandy G-11 German Equatorial Mount head, as it arrived at Company Seven from the factory and failed our acceptance evaluations (40,296 and 44,042 and 33,842 bytes).
This mount has spotty/splotchy and uneven anodizing of some components, and a very obvious scratch along the Declination Axis housing deep through the anodizing and into the aluminum.
The owner of Company Seven was so annoyed at this obvious waste of our time that the subject line of his E-Mail read:
"Losmandy G-11...this one must have been destined for one of your other retailers"
Click on image to see enlarged views (238,579 and 146,952 and 117,720 bytes)
You Want More Proof?
Today several other retailers claim they "test" newly arrived telescopes; some may even open the box and look inside or do a bit more. A few claim to have built devices to test optics too but while these can have some value they are limited in accuracy by many factors including: their precision, software, speaking the same language (P-V or RMS?), or a home-made Interferometer testing at as few as ten or twenty points across the wavefront. So their claims of "my 1/20th wave C-14" and the like resound as ludicrous to those who are informed. In spite of all that, we at Company Seven have evaluated telescopes sold by other retailers brought to us by unhappy customers, and we have observed instruments in the field that would have never been sold by Company Seven. We point to our telescope return rate as a tangible statistic hinting at the success rate of those who buy from us; Company Seven averages less than telescope returned one per year! But don't just take our word for what we do:
- Years ago Alan Hale, the President of Celestron comments "Company Seven is the only US retailer who comprehensively checks the optics of each arriving new Celestron telescope".
- A few years ago the owner of C7 met with a Vice President of Meade Instruments who applauded the feedback provided by C7 to Meade. Furthermore, he suggested C7 should charge a premium for our quality control testing services as some other shops were doing, including a large camera-telescope shop that is among his larger retailers. I asked him "how many new telescopes has C7, a much smaller volume reseller, rejected and returned to Meade or asked for repair parts in the past year?" He replied it was a noteworthy number. Then I asked "how many telescopes has that camera-telescope store returned in the past year?" He replied that he "could not think of one".
- Ask Questar about the period when every newly arrived Questar 3-1/2 telescope was diagnosed by Company Seven with a hard to detect discrepancy that up to then the factory was not set up to reveal. Their Manager of assembly and a Vice President visited Company Seven to learn the technique by which we were finding the anomaly and then they adjusted their production to solve this. Almost every other Questar delivered by the factory and by other retailers over that period has this anomaly, but none delivered from Company Seven exhibit that. In fairness to Questar, at focus this was not a practical concern but this demonstrates how Company Seven set a very high standard, one beyond the practical and into the theoretical for these, these world's finest and costliest compact telescopes.
- In the Fall of 2007 a customer from the middle east ordered a Questar Standard Model telescope. He planned to receive it while on travel to another country in November and so we understood timing would be critical. His newly arrived telescope failed to pass at Company Seven and was returned to the factory in October. In November we accepted a new telescope and sent it to him and he in turn commented:
"You and C7 have changed my method of thinking about buying an expensive thing, previously, I always said buy from the manufacture this the best ...Now, NO
This is one of the testimonials that gives credence to the motto "demanding people buy Questar, the most demanding buy their Questar from Company Seven"
From the start ,,your great website gave me the best idea about Questar and its history this attracted me.Also i found that you gave a clear idea about everything in purchase....at the same time i sent to you i sent to Questar Corp.about the cost of shipping to me they replayed with few words but you give me a full details about every method of shipping and dimensions of the box etc.....and accept to send the scope to me in my short visit to Asia ( i did not imagine that you would agree because this need very precise timing in finishing the scope and shipping it ...no places for mistakes)
you gave me the best advises to choose the best coating and accessories, i ordered telescope without BB coating and after the scope was finished I changed my mind and you was able to change the order to BB (I did not imagine that)......
After the scope arrived from Questar you found the fork arm is not stable to the degree you accept ,This is my first time to see that (Distributor quality threshold is higher than the manufacture threshold)...now i understand you are not a normal distributor of Questar.
You returned it back in spite of the limited time(i like this ...the quality is the most important even with any prices or risks....
In this 4 months journey together with my Questar you always available to answer or explain in spite of your (distractions with family illness)"
- Ask our other suppliers the same questions too - Losmandy, Orion, TeleVue, William Optics, etc. and expect one answer: Company Seven.
So before you believe that promise uttered by another vendor or their piece of paper, ask them if their Interferometer (read below) or their testing standards looks anything like those of Company Seven:
Above left: artificial star, this one is 5 micron diameter and is among several sizes we employ
Above right: custom sub-micron scaled resolution target.
For The Professional Community:
The test methods employed in our routine quality control inspections of telescopes sold by our showroom include resolution testing, and or artificial or natural star testing. We also provide fee-based high precision testing with a system that will provide documentation. This is by means of a a professional Zygo GPI Large Aperture Phase-Measurement Interferometer that will provide a very accurate characterization of the telescope.
Above: Zygo GPI Interferometer. To the right is a test report we provided with a new Questar 7-based instrument with Quartz Corrector and Primary Mirror (70,865 Bytes).
Click on image of GPI application printout to read enlarged view (233,669 Bytes).
Testing is usually performed at 632.8nm although testing at other wavelengths is available by special request. The testing can be performed at partial or full aperture, with the telescope optically aligned and set to nominal infinity focus. The Zygo GPI with standard camera provides 307,000 data points, and the testing can provide information requested including:
a) Interferogram diagram
b) Measure of System Peak to Valley
c) Measure of System RMS
d) Measure of System MTF
e) Measure of System PSF - energy concentration at focus
f) Surface / Wave front diagram
These test reports will then be delivered to the client in the forms of a printout, and in Code V and Zygo formats.