In praise of the lowly Pronto
by Chris Greene
Once upon a time, the Pronto was quite the hit in the astronomy world. Then, as other small, high-end refractors came onto the scene, the Pronto lost its audience and favor with most but not me. Here's my Pronto story...
Some years ago, when I was getting back into astronomy for the umpteenth time, I learned about the little TV Pronto. Tele Vue referred to it as a "semi-apo" refractor, whatever that means.
I was scopeless at the time but living under fairly dark rural skies in Idaho. As I've always preferred refractors for their ease of use, I started searching around for a used one. After a time I located a green one with an included Telepod mount. It came with the 20mm TV Plossl and that was to be my only eyepiece for a few weeks. I was really impressed with the build quality and when it saw first light I was just amazed at the wide field views of the heavens even with the 20mm plossl. I was able to locate a number of Messier objects and was impressed with just how much I could see under dark skies. Over the next few months, I found some additional eyepieces that TV recommended (35mm Pan, 12mm Nag, 8mm Radian) and have since added to the collection. I also added a used Starbeam and the eyepiece caddy.
Of course, in time I added some other scopes (a non-SDF Gensis and C8 mounted on a GP) but the little Pronto was the scope that got used the most and I finally sold off the other two. Then I added a Questar for inner solar system use because of the drive and because I'm a fan of small portable optics (and that I always wanted one). I've kept the Questar and since added another 4" refractor (NP-101) but still, the little Pronto on its Telepod is still the scope I use the most.
Why? Well, it's ready to go in a moment, never has to cool down, shows tremendous views of the stars, doubles, brighter Messier objects (I can actually resolve outer stars in M13 under my skies), and very nice views of the moon. I have taken it to a few star parties and it has always impressed. One time, at Bryce Canyon, it was more popular than the big SCT's that were being run by the Park Service and the University of Utah. Why? Because I showed folks the Andromeda Galaxy and they could see the whole thing in the eyepiece. When they learned just what it was they saw I had them. The big scopes were likely not well-collimated and their operators were having some other troubles. Under dark skies, a small wide-field refractor is a wonderful thing and the Pronto is all that. It was pretty cool that at this particular star party, the Pronto won the night and the lines were longest at my scope vs. the big boys.
Once, I asked Al Nagler whether I should replace it with the TV-76 and he said the only reason to would be if I were dissatisfied with its lunar and planetary views. As I find the color correction reasonably good and use other scopes for those objects anyway, I've kept it all these years.
If I had to sell everything, I think the Pronto and Telepod would be the last to go. I absolutely love the whole package and find it very satisfying to own such a small, high quality, portable rig.
I know there are many other options today but Prontos often come up for under $500 now and to me, that's an absolute steal of a deal. If you've never looked through or used one you're in for a treat if you get the chance!