Perhaps Lawrence Braymer would have been proud of his small role in the way the camera industry had developed a decade after his death. In the early 1960s, he frequently complained about how typical camera bodies were so poorly suited to high-power telescopic photography. The slap of a reflex mirror and the sudden jerk of a shutter mechanism compelled his company to seek alternatives most often in the form of customizations that third-party technicians made to cameras like the Nikon F. Other challenges—achieving sharp focus, handling the effects of poor seeing, and deciding upon exposure times—required adaptations that only the photographer could make.
By the middle of the 1970s, however, production cameras rolled off assembly lines with features that made them better suited to the task of capturing high-magnification images. Internal light meters aided the photographer with setting proper exposure times. Shutter assemblies became smoother. One could lock a reflex mirror up well before making an exposure. Film options had expanded and continued to grow even more. The assortment of lens designs on the market grew, too.
Seeing a business opportunity, Questar realized that the basic principles of the Maksutov-Cassegrain design could be adapted for use in a telephoto lens made primarily for use with a camera.
By the middle of 1976, Edward Kaprelian, Questar’s longtime optical consultant, and William Mimmack had completed enough design work to seek protection for their intellectual property. In May 1976, these designers submitted an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a “Catadioptric Lens System” that officials awarded with U.S. Patent #4,061,420 in December 1977.
To achieve a well-corrected system that delivered high magnification, sharp resolution, and minimal bulk, Kaprelian and Mimmack specified a catadioptric system with several components: a Mangin primary mirror, a type of negative meniscus lens whose reflective surface is on its rear side rather than the more typical front surface. The designers also described an aspheric meniscus corrector lens, a mirror spot on the inside surface of the corrector, and an additional pair of air-spaced correcting lenses situated inside the central baffle tube between the secondary and primary mirrors. The result was an instrument with an aperture of 89mm and an effective focal length and ratio of 700mm at f/8. Its optical arrangement was packed into a compact unit that shared a number of similarities with Questar’s core 3.5-inch telescopes. It offered minimal chromatic aberration and maximum field flatness thanks to elements that depended not on exotic materials but instead on figuring conventional optical glass that was readily available and therefore relatively inexpensive.
Not long after Kaprelian and Mimmack received a patent for their design, Questar introduced its new product to the market. In August 1976, the company teased readers of Modern Photography with a simple advertisement hinting that a new telephoto lens was forthcoming. The next month, it ran a full-page promotion with more details. A conspicuous image of the new Questar 700 did most of the talking. Repeating Modern Photography’s claim that it was simply “the best,” Questar highlighted its flatness of field and its magnification ratio of 1:4 at ten feet.
A camera body attached to the Questar 700 in a straightforward way. All that was necessary was a bayonet adapter whose female threads attached to the male end of the Questar 700’s swivel coupling. Once attached, the camera could be rotated into position and locked into place using a set screw on the side of the instrument. An optional Barlow lens was available for placement between the Questar 700 and a camera body to increase magnification.
The Questar 700 could also function as a wide-field telescope. With the addition of a Questar Televid, a star diagonal with an attached 24mm eyepiece, one could convert the instrument into a 30x telescope for terrestrial or astronomical observing. The Televid simply threaded onto the swivel coupling at the rear of the unit.
As a supplement to its magazine advertising, Questar promoted its new telephoto lens through several pieces of printed literature. In an undated brochure entitled “Photographing in the Rockies with the Questar 700,” the company featured the work of longtime contributors Dorothy and Ralph Davis, who used their Questar 700 to photograph wildlife from a distance. And in 1978, Questar published a pictorial flyer entitled “Questar in Kenya: On Safari with the 700.” It included numerous close-up photographs that Eugene Cohen captured with the same instrument.
When Questar introduced the 700, the company joined what may have already been a relatively crowded market. At various points in time, Nikon, Canon, Tamron, Samyang, Vivitar, Opteka, and Sony all produced or marketed catadioptric telephoto lenses. Perhaps more direct sources of competition for Questar were Celestron’s 300mm f/5.6 telephoto lens and Meade’s 1000mm f/11 Maksutov Telephoto Lens, both of which appeared in the early 1980s.
But the Questar 700 stood out among these other products for the same reasons that the company’s other instruments outshined the competition: optical and mechanical quality.
A number of photography magazines offered a positive reception to the Questar 700 when it appeared on the market. After reviewing a pre-production Questar 700 in July 1976, Modern Photography offered a more substantial assessment in its January 1977 issue. Designed exclusively for photography, the Questar 700 “would not be the smallest mirror lens or the lightest,” but it was “merely the best by a long shot.” It delivered three times as much resolution with little linear distortion both at the center and the edges of the field of view as the typical 500mm f/8 telephoto lens. A bench test revealed a diffraction-limited system with just a trace of over-correction on axis. Modern Photography complained that the set screw that locked the swivel camera coupler in place was too small, a flaw that Questar remedied in later production units. The reviewers also noted that they were able to use the Questar 700 as a hand-held instrument at shutter speeds of 1/125 seconds or faster. The magazine saw the lens as being particularly useful for nature and sports photographers.
In its February 1979 assessment of the Questar 700, Industrial Photography magazine noted that manufacturers had been developing catadioptric telephoto lenses to deliver distortion-free performance in a compact package. But the magazine also pointed out that the design had its downsides. For one, the inability to add an iris diaphragm for stopping down the aperture left the photographer no option other than the use of neutral density filters to control light. The requirement for a sturdy tripod represented another drawback. Still, Industrial Photography concluded that the Questar 700 “proved to be every bit as good as the manufacturer’s information indicated—and just as demanding of the user’s expertise in fine focusing, as had been expected.” The publication’s testers managed to capture extremely sharp images, and they found no significant problems with field flatness, chromatic aberration, contrast, or any other meaningful flaw. “The consensus of opinion of those who participated in the test, in fact, was enthusiastically favorable.”
Not long after introducing the Questar 700, the company implemented a handful of modifications that improved its performance. In June 1980, Questar experimented with using broadband coatings to increase light throughput. The results were so favorable that, in July 1981, the company began including broadband coatings as a standard feature on all Questar 700 lenses. Around that same time, the company introduced the Questar 700 Mark II, which featured a fast focuser that, unlike the first version’s focusing ring, had a thumb-and-lever mechanism that enabled the photographer to control focus and exposure with one hand. Questar also offered the option for a powered fast-focusing mechanism for special applications.
After the 700 entered production in 1976, Questar had received a total of 822 optics sets by November 1986. For the next few years, the company used up its stock of optics and other parts as new orders for the Questar 700 came in. The telephoto lens made its last appearance in the company’s price lists in August 1990.
By the late 1970s and the 1980s, photography manufacturers had finally begun to offer cameras with features Lawrence Braymer had long agitated for: smooth, vibration-free mechanics and the ability to lock up the reflex mirror well before making an exposure. Given the extent to which the camera market had transformed itself in the quarter-century that Questar had been in business, perhaps it was only natural that the company proceeded to offer customized camera bodies only for a short while longer.
In its 1978 Instruments and Accessories catalog, the company added a Questar-modified Contax RTS camera body to its two other customized offerings, the Nikon F and the Olympus OM-1. But apart from its characterization of the Contax RTS as being modified for Questar, the company made no other indication about what exactly the modification entailed. In any event, Questar offered the Contax RTS only for a brief period. Its last appearance in the company’s promotional literature occurred in 1983.
By the late 1980s, the camera industry had caught up to the demands of telescopic photography so much that Questar’s last camera body offering, the Nikon F3HP, featured no indication whatsoever that any custom modification had been done on behalf of the company. First appearing in Questar’s 1988 Instruments and Accessories catalog, the Nikon F3HP made occasional appearances in other pieces of printed literature throughout the 1990s before quietly disappearing.
Around the same time that Questar developed its diminutive 700mm telephoto lens, it was busy preparing its entrance into another very different market.
For years, Celestron had been offering large-aperture Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes. In the mid-1960s when Tom Johnson formed the “Astro-Optical Division” of Valor Electronics, a division that later evolved into Celestron Pacific, his company’s first offering was the Celestronic 20, a twenty-inch instrument that seemed to be more at home in a professional observatory than in an amateur’s backyard. By the late 1960s, Celestron introduced other models including 10-, 16-, and 22-inch SCTs.
Seeing an opportunity to make an entry into professional observatory and industrial markets, Questar began development on an entirely different class of telescopic instrumentation. What emerged by the end of the 1970s was an instrument whose basic design was the same as the one that Lawrence Braymer had used to produce his Standard Questar but whose sheer size utterly dwarfed it.
In the August 1979 issue of Sky and Telescope, Questar introduced the Questar 12. The message that the advertisement communicated was a simple one: here was a telescope that represented “Questar’s answer to the problem of an important telescope for the university and for special industrial applications, as well as the ultimate in a personal telescope.”
In a four-page promotional brochure that the company printed that same year, Questar clearly targeted a wholly different market than what it sought in earlier decades. Echoing its argument that its 3.5-inch telescopes represented the antidote to the struggles involved with managing unwieldly long-tube refractors and reflectors on bulky equatorial mounts, the company pitched its new Questar 12 to those institutions and organizations that operated on a vastly larger scale. Having benefited from years of experience using Maksutov’s catadioptric design to shrink the classical telescope to a far more manageable size, Questar touted its creation of “a large telescope with the resolution that theory prescribes, often surpassing the performance of even larger apertures in other systems.” In contrast to whatever large-scale and permanently-mounted telescopes that one found at university or industrial facilities the Questar 12’s “relative light weight and small size make it invaluable.” Its “large performance compressed into its short barrel, should make it first in the consideration of engineers who are coping with the problems of portability and housing space.”
Upon examining its specifications, an amateur would never have considered the Questar 12 to be manageable. But the director of a professional observatory or industrial operation engaged in special applications might have:
- Clear aperture: 304.8mm.
- Focal length: 4572mm.
- Field of view: 0.46 degrees unvignetted.
- Magnification: 190x with 24mm eyepiece; 286x with 16mm eyepiece.
- Primary mirror: 321.89mm, f/2.1, Pyrex substrate, aluminum silicon oxide coatings.
- Corrector lens: 313.69mm, BK-7, AR coated.
- Secondary mirror: 72.14mm.
- Length: 1054.1mm (41.5 inches).
- Weight: 125 pounds (approximate).
Revealing the company’s assumptions, Questar wrote in its instruction manual for its new large telescope that “the Questar 12 is normally permanently mounted in a dome or comparable building; thus, it is ready for observing at all times following alignment of the mounting and familiarization with the controls.” This was clearly not an instrument that an observer could place on a portable mount for an evening in the backyard under stars.
The Questar 12 included features not found in the company’s more humble product offerings. To improve one’s ability to use the instrument in cold weather, a heater around the focuser warmed its grease and smoothed out its operation. For moisture control, the Questar 12 featured a way to lodge a small wafer of desiccant inside the telescope. The company also installed counterweight rods along the length of the barrel for making minor balancing adjustments as one added and removed accessories.
Questar did not limit itself to simply offering a large optical tube assembly. Although the company also sold an equatorial mount that one could use to mount any large telescope, it served the more obvious purpose of providing something upon which the Questar 12 in particular could rest.
At first, the company offered the Questar-Byers Mount, whose name signaled the fact that Questar had tapped Edward R. Byers Company, a longtime manufacturer of high-end equatorial mounts, to produce a satisfactory foundation for the Questar 12. With the telescope barrel bolted onto its saddle plate, the mount featured right ascension and declination axes with worm gear drives that could accommodate electronic controls. The mount itself required a substantial pier that was capable of carrying over 300 pounds of weight.
In June 1981, the company introduced a slightly different option it simply called the Questar Mount. Although most of its specifications were similar to the Questar-Byers mount, the two had notable differences. In terms of tracking accuracy, the earlier mount allowed a maximum of a 5-arcsecond periodic error while the newer one improved that to 4 arcseconds. The Questar-Byers’s Mount featured a “4 button variable frequency power supply” for adjustments on both axes. The Questar Mount, on the other hand, made direct accommodations for use of a Powerguide for right ascension tracking adjustments with “manual rapid alignment in R.A. and Dec. using [a] guidescope.” And while the Questar-Byers Mount weighed in at 175 pounds, the Questar Mount tipped the scales at approximately 250 pounds with its additional pier weighing approximately 145 pounds.
At first, Questar’s literature depicted the availability of a small refractor that functioned as a finder scope, and it merely suggested possibilities for mounting a Questar 700. But in later promotions, the company guided potential buyers directly to the Questar 700 as the best choice for a finder. It “has both wide field and sharp resolution, and a SLR camera can be instantly attached when photographs are desired.” Questar even suggested that the camera itself could function as a finder when attached to a Questar 700. But ultimately, there was no need to hem oneself in with just one option. Since the Questar 12 had three mounting points on its barrel, one could attach a separate finder, a Questar 700 for photography, and even a Questar Seven for use as a guide scope.
Completing its new package for a truly professional observatory-class instrument, Questar partnered with Observa-Dome to provide buyers with a way to house their new Questar 12. Beginning with its advertisement in the March 1981 issues of Sky and Telescope and Astronomy magazine, the company added that “we now have a Questar 12 set up in our new Observa-Dome here on our grounds near New Hope, Pa. We are very proud to have an example of this renowned maker’s work as a housing for our observatory-quality telescopes. Its size is 2.5 meters and its total height from the ground, about eleven feet.”
“The Questar 12 Experience”
Along with a handful of private buyers, several research institutions and government agencies with ample resources in their budgets took note of the Questar 12. Individuals with connections to these organizations were among the lucky few to observe with these instruments.
In 1986, Walter MacDonald reflected on his own encounter with one at the University of Toronto. In an article entitled “The Questar 12 Experience,” he marveled at the instrument’s ability to perform superbly even under urban light pollution. Reporting on his visual and photographic experience, MacDonald noted that “the globular star cluster M13 and [the] Orion Nebula are knockouts; the planetary nebula NGC 6210 in Hercules is blue; the Clown Face Nebula NGC 2392 in Gemini shows a fainter, hazy envelope surrounding a brighter, mottled core with has a stellar nucleus; the Ring Nebula M57 in Lyra is filled with nebulosity; the open cluster NGC 7789 in Cassiopeia shows many more of its individual stars...; the central star in the Dumbbell Nebula M27 is visible with direct vision; and NGC 2419, a globular star cluster in Lynx, is detectable even over the sky brightness of Scarborough.” MacDonald recorded his most memorable observing experience the night he toured the Virgo-Coma cluster of galaxies. He claimed to have observed two globular star clusters belonging to the M87 galaxy.
“For planetary work,” MacDonald continued to write, “the 12-inch is at its best. Jupiter is beautiful beyond description.” He easily observed eight cloud belt bands with numerous irregularities and festoons, the Great Red Spot, and the Galilean moons. “The first time I saw Saturn in the Questar, I stared for over half an hour.” The Questar 12 delivered sharp views not only of Cassini’s Division but also the shadows that the planet’s ring system cast on Saturn itself. The difference in brightness between the rings and the planet’s disk created “an interesting sort of 3-D effect.” Venus and Uranus were simply spectacular. Although its entire disk could not fit in the same field of view, the Moon appeared with “a wealth of detail.”
Questar left no doubt about the performance of its new telescope. In its promotional flyer for the instrument, the company wrote that “the impact of the Questar 12 on those who look through it for the first time is overwhelming: its resolution is the incontrovertible proof of optical quality.” Judging by the reaction of those who had an opportunity to use one, the claim was not unmerited. “My experiences with this telescope have left me indelibly stamped,” Walter MacDonald himself concluded. “With a now radically altered outlook on observational astronomy, I suffer from an acute case of aperture fever, find it hard to work without any observatory, and I am more perfectionist about quality of my astrophotos than before. Now more than ever, I am doing as much lunar and planetary work as deep sky. So, although you will never be quite the same afterwards, for anyone who does get the chance, I highly recommend the Questar 12 experience.”
Unfortunately, numerous barriers would mean that only a very privileged few would ever have the opportunity to enjoy the Questar 12 experience. The company’s literature hinted at one such barrier. In its 1979 promotional brochure for the telescope, Questar invited discussions with prospective buyers to discuss their needs and to let the company quote firm prices. Its 1980 Instruments and Accessories price catalog directed customers who were interested in receiving more information about the Questar 12 to “send for the special folder that describes the instrument, with its specifications.” Both of these pieces omitted specific prices.
Questar revealed the cost for its 12-inch telescope only on separate price lists that the company sent upon answering requests for literature. Around 1979, that cost started at $23,889 for a Questar 12 with Pyrex mirror and standard magnesium fluoride coatings. By 1982, the price for the same instrument had risen to $32,450. Options for a Cer-Vit or, later, a Zerodur mirror upgrade increased that cost by a few thousand dollars as did the addition of broadband coatings. Buyers could add a mount, a pier, a guiding system, and other accessories. Given the wide range of possibilities, the company only went so far as to offer a loose total price estimate for a complete Questar 12 package between $42,000 to $50,000. Delivery times ranged from nine months to a year.
Meanwhile, the median household in the United States earned $16,461 to $20,171 between 1979 and 1982.
Overcoming the difficulties of fabricating something as physically large as the Questar 12 represented yet another barrier. After production began, the company soon discovered the practical limits of Maksutov’s design. Technicians at J.R. Cumberland, Questar’s optical supplier, could spend as many as six months figuring one optics set for the Questar 12. Given the extraordinarily precise aspherical surface that the instrument’s corrector lens called for especially on its outer edges, and given the equally demanding and uncommonly smooth overall figure of its optics, it was not uncommon for workers to grind past the point of nominal figuring and be forced to reach for a fresh set of optics and begin again. The problems were so formidable that Questar made little if any profit on the Questar 12 even in spite of his exceptionally high price tag.
After a long and intense magazine advertising campaign that lasted throughout most of the 1980s, Questar made only a dozen of its 12-inch telescopes before ending regular production in the mid-1990s. The company continued offering a version of the Questar 12 that included a revised optical design through special order. Only a handful of clients pursued this option.
For a brief time, Questar considered an even larger version of its Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope. In the mid-1980s, Questar’s Lonnie Benton and Company Seven’s Martin Cohen engaged in talks about a potential Questar 18. But after having realized the production difficulties that became obvious with the Questar 12, the extremely high cost that an even bigger telescope would entail, and uncertainty about exactly who would purchase such an instrument, the proposal never even reached the drawing board.
25th Anniversary Questar
Although Questar Corporation had been in existence for 25 years by March 1975, the company made no obvious move to celebrate its silver anniversary. As the decade drew to a close, another milestone grew closer: a quarter-century since production began in the middle of 1954.
Although Questar’s managers did not act, others did. Years later, Maurice Greeson, an owner of a retail camera shop in Southern California who had also functioned as one of Questar’s dealers, remembered one evening in 1978 or 1979 when he, Questar sales manager Donald Cupitt, and the company’s western U.S. sales representative were visiting with each other. At one point, someone hatched the idea to recognize Questar’s 25th anniversary. They discussed the idea, and the group finally agreed that the company should produce a limited run of 25 Standard Questars. Each would have premium coatings and mirror substrate options, brass declination and right ascension setting circles, gold anodized control knobs, a full-aperture solar filter, and a set of eyepieces with all five focal lengths in a special case. Serial numbers ran between 1 and 25—the choice of a particular number would be up to the buyer—and would be indicated on a brass plaque on the instrument’s base and on the cases for the solar filter and eyepieces. Its price was $2750, substantially more than the Standard Questar’s cost of $1600.
Production of the 25th Anniversary Questar began late in 1979, and the company delivered the first one in January 1980. The first units had Cer-Vit primary mirrors. But because Questar was in the process of transitioning away from Cer-Vit and toward the use of Zerodur in the late 1970s, later units had mirrors made of this newer substrate.
Questar only built between fifteen and seventeen 25th Anniversary telescopes. For whatever reason, Donald Cupitt never informed Marguerite Braymer of the project. Angry about being marginalized even though she owned the company whose anniversary the special manufacturing run was meant to celebrate, she abruptly halted production. As a result, the 25th Anniversary Questar enjoys a rarity that made it highly desirable among many collectors.
Around this same time period, the company made another item that saw only a few years of production. Questar-manufactured eyepieces shipped with instruments between 1979 and 1983. They looked nearly identical to the Vernonscope-produced Brandon eyepieces they replaced with two exceptions. Instead of threading onto the eyepiece housing, the rubber eyecup of Questar-manufactured eyepieces snapped into place around a groove at the top of the eyepiece. And rather than having “Questar Brandon” engraved into the body of the eyepiece, their marking simply read “Questar.”
The company purchased eyepiece optics from a local supplier and assembled them in Questar’s own shop.
In its 1981 Instruments and Accessories catalog, the company wrote that it was “supplying eyepieces of its own design on all Questar telescopes. They have been especially designed to complement the Questar optical system and are of the same high quality that you have come to expect of all Questar products.” The company offered eyepieces with five different focal lengths: 8, 12, 16 24 and 32mm.
A close examination of the company’s magazine advertisements and printed promotional literature from the early 1980s reveals that Questar superimposed an image of its new in-house eyepieces over existing illustrations. The modified images appeared in the company’s marketing into the 1990s. If anything, the move stayed true to Lawrence Braymer’s thoroughgoing tendency to reuse existing resources as much as possible.
Perhaps after realizing that producing its own eyepieces was not cost effective for the company, Questar eventually switched back to Vernonscope-manufactured Brandon eyepieces after only a few years.
Critics of the Maksutov-Cassegrain design sometimes complain that its long focal length results in a narrow field of view. For high-magnification planetary observing, that characteristic often proves to be an asset. Yet for wide-field applications, it limits the usefulness of Maksutov telescopes like the Questar.
In an effort to adapt the design and make it better suited to wide-field observing, the company introduced its line of Wide-Sky Questars. In response to the mounting excitement over the coming of Halley’s Comet in 1986, the company wrote in its February 1983 advertisement in Sky and Telescope that its “emphasis in developing these new designs was on low magnification and optimum field of view—magnification low enough and field of view wide enough to sweep the sky for rich-field observing without the need of finder or equatorial mount.” The focal length and ratio that Questar implemented for these new models—700mm at f/7.8 for the Wide-Sky 3 1/2, which shared similarities to the Questar 700 telephoto lens, and 2400mm at f/13.5 for the Wide-Sky 7—were still rather long compared to other telescope designs. Still, Questar made the case that its new instruments lacked both the coma one found in many refractors and the chromatic aberration of many short-tube refractors. The company argued further that its new Wide-Sky Questars were particularly useful for “comet seeking and general sky scanning, monitoring telescopic meteors, observing the occultation of star and planets by the Moon, observing lunar and solar eclipses, observing the deep-sky phenomena—nebulae, star clusters and galaxies—and variable star observing.”
Questar’s 1983 Instruments and Accessories catalog listed the price for the Wide-Sky 3 1/2 between $2268 and $2725 depending on once choice for optical coatings. Pyrex was the only mirror substrate option. The Wide-Sky 7 cost between $4460 and $6332 depending on coatings and mirror options.
The Wide-Sky Questars were never a commercial success. The company ultimately manufactured only 20 to 25 units during its production run. It ran its last advertisement for the Wide-Sky Questars in March 1984, and it included them in its promotional literature for the last time in its 1988 Instruments and Accessories catalog.
Instruments for Special Applications
While many of the new products that Questar introduced in the late 1970s and the 1980s had limited success at best, the experience of taking the basic design of the company’s core products and adapting it for use in substantially new instruments allowed Questar to push into new application areas. Potentially lucrative business with industrial and government clients awaited.
Since the mid- to late 1960s, Questar had often highlighted the way in which many of its clients adapted off-the-shelf instruments for use in unusual laboratory applications. The U.S. Army Electronic Command used a Questar in a high repetition rate laser system study at Fort Monmouth. Sperry Rand also included a Questar telescope in laser equipment its laboratory used to measure lunar mountains. At NASA’s Ames Research Center, Robert Dannenberg, Dah Yu Cheng, and Walter Stephens used a fully-mounted Standard Questar to photograph the operation of a metal diaphragm inside a 30-inch electric arc shock tunnel. Tyler Camera Systems demonstrated the Questar telescope’s usefulness for aerial surveillance by attaching one to a system it developed for stabilizing a camera in a vibrating aircraft. ITT included a 3.5-inch Questar as part of both a radar alignment and calibration system it developed for Federal Electric Corporation and a star tracker component of the Space Precision Attitude Measuring System it built for Lockheed Missiles and Space Company. A Questar telescope was the optical component of a Non-Contacting Profilometer that PhysiTech developed and that the Argone National Laboratories used to inspect and measure nuclear fuel rods. During nuclear testing at the White Sands Missile Range, at least 200 and possibly even 300 Questar telescopes transmitted critical data before being instantly vaporized. Many other organizations found all manner of uses for Questar’s telescopes.
As Douglas Knight observed years later, the company’s line of telescopes had become “stagnant” by the 1970s. It appealed only to a niche market by the time Questar made serious moves to develop products made particularly for special applications. With an eye toward producing instruments for long-distance microscopy, remote measurement, and surveillance, Questar turned to designing specialized gear for industrial research operations and government agencies whose project requirements bore no resemblance to those of an amateur astronomer. The company pursued a strategy that involved taking its core products—its 3.5- and seven-inch telescopes—and adding features that made them better suited for special applications. These new customers—research and development operations, law enforcement agencies, and entities engaged in surveillance or covert operations—represented an opportunity for Questar to earn large profits. They also positioned the company to depend less upon the amateur astronomy market, which other companies were flooding with many other lower-cost options. Except among those few well-heeled buyers who insisted upon first-rate instrumentation, Questar found that competing for the business of buyers with more average means was becoming more and more difficult as time went on.
In the June 1971 issue of Scientific American, Questar introduced the Autocollimator, the company’s first product designed expressly for a special application. The next year, it published a more detailed brochure that promoted the new product. In general, the company explained, autocollimators measure small angles. Projecting a collimated light beam and reticle pattern to a reflective target, an autocollimator accepts the reflected image and allows one to compare it with another reticle in the autocollimator itself. Its high degree of accuracy far exceeds the ability of mechanical measurements to check for parallelism or squareness.
What made the Questar Autocollimator unique was its ability to attach to the rear axial port found on most of the company’s off-the-shelf products. With its unique finder system being useful for initial targeting, its high optical quality serving to deliver highly accurate measurements, and its small size contributing to a very portable system, a Questar telescope coupled with an Autocollimator could become an effective measurement tool for various industrial and scientific purposes. Applications included large surface plate leveling, prism angle comparisons, optical window parallelism and flatness checks, and lathe bed straightness measurement.
Other specialized instruments soon followed. In 1974 and 1975, Questar introduced a series of instruments—the SR7 and a line of 3.5- and 7-inch Ruggedized Questars—made of temperature-resistant Invar and with Cer-Vit and quartz optics. These instruments were particularly well suited to applications where extreme temperature, high vibration, or heavy gravitational force were involved.
For applications that involved monitoring sites using film and television cameras, the company offered the Questar 20-40 and the Questar 40-120, two dual-focal-length instruments that could be controlled remotely.
Questar tailored another product line for applications requiring long-distance microscopy. Since its beginning, Questar had always touted how its 3.5-inch telescope could function as a long-distance microscope. But in the 1970s, it shifted gears and began offering instruments specialized for that purpose.
Appearing in January 1981 was the Micro-Questar, a “microscope of unique character which fills a gap between the low-powered dissecting microscope and the large scanning microscope.” With a focusing range of 37 to 96 inches and a magnification range of 56x to 666x, it gave laboratory researchers the ability to examine a specimen from a distance.
Following closely behind the Micro-Questar was the M1 and the QM-1, which both focused at distances between 22 and 77 inches and which performed similar functions as the Micro-Questar. In the April 1986 issue of Scientific American, the company highlighted one such application, an experiment by Stanford University’s Applied Physics department that involved the remote observation of single-crystal fiber growth. And in 1989, Questar introduced the QM-100 and QM-200 as two additions to its line of long-distance microscopes.
In the mid-1980s, Questar began offering a series of multifocal-length instruments it manufactured primarily for surveillance operations. In the July 1984 issue of Scientific American, the company described the MFL 3 1/2 as a multifocal-length instrument that “provides tested theoretical resolution at five focal lengths, ranging from 320 mm. to 4000. One foot tall, it weighs only 6 1/2 pounds. This design is Questar’s answer to the shortcomings of the zoom lenses.” The company also offered the MFL 7 and the MFL 12, two variations with apertures of seven and twelve inches, respectively.
In the final years of the 1980s, Questar introduced its Remote Measurement System. In a full-page advertisement that appeared in the September 1987 issue of Scientific American, the company described the QRMS as a non-contact, computer-controlled gauging and alignment system that could capture and retain images of specimens.
In March 1990, Questar introduced the QRMS-II. Its software provided three key features. First, it enabled “unattended operation of all lighting, positioning, timing and storage of images.” Second, it offered “menu-driven routines for simulated slow motion imaging of periodic events, analysis of long-term dynamic processes, and precise timing of the capture of high speed events.” And third, it provided the ability to perform “area scanning in several modes, by making and storing adjacent images or monitoring several specific but separate areas of interest.”
Although it had come to offer highly specialized products to laboratory researchers, security agencies, and other organizations, Questar never forgot its roots as a company that manufactured telescopes for the amateur astronomer. In the March 1990 issue of Sky and Telescope, it linked its products for special applications to users who turned their telescopes to the night sky. The company wrote that “with your Questar you enter the world of serious science and technology.” Although the inside front cover of a magazine for amateur astronomers may have been an odd place to run an advertisement that featured specialized laboratory instruments, the effort was a clear attempt to cement in the minds of its customers the notion that Questar was a well-established producer of fine optical instruments. If we can make precision instruments for exacting special applications, the company argued, just imagine what we can do for the backyard observer.
During the late 1970s and the 1980s, Questar continued many of its longtime advertising themes and introduced a few new ones.
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1 Questar Corporation, 1977, Catadioptric Lens System, U.S. Patent 4,061,420, filed May 6, 1976, and issued December 6, 1977, https://patents.google.com/patent/US4061420, accessed June 9, 2020.
2 Questar Corporation, 1977, Catadioptric Lens System, U.S. Patent 4,061,420, filed May 6, 1976, and issued December 6, 1977, https://patents.google.com/patent/US4061420, accessed June 9, 2020; “Mangin mirror,” Wikipedia, n.d., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangin_mirror, accessed March 2, 2021.
3 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Modern Photography, August 1976, 12.
4 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Modern Photography, September 1976, 81.
5 Questar Corporation, Questar 700 booklet, 1979, http://www.company7.com/library/questar/Questar_700.p.pdf, accessed August 20, 2019.
6 Questar Corporation, Questar 700 booklet, 1979, http://www.company7.com/library/questar/Questar_700.p.pdf, accessed August 20, 2019.
7 Questar Corporation, “Photographing in the Rockies with the Questar 700,” n.d.
8 Questar Corporation, “Questar in Kenya: On Safari with the 700,” 1978.
9 “Catadioptric system,” Wikipedia, n.d., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catadioptric_system, accessed March 4, 2021.
10 Celestron, advertisement, Astronomy, July 1981, outside back cover; Meade Instruments Corporation, advertisement, Astronomy, December 1983, inside front cover-3.
11 “Famous Telescope Maker Produces Mirror Tele,” Modern Photography, January 1977.
12 Hal Denstman, “Product Profile: Questar 700 Mirror Lens,” Industrial Photography, February 1979.
13 “Questar Products Index & Overview Page,” Company Seven, n.d., http://www.company7.com/questar/index.html, accessed November 5, 2019.
14 Questar Corporation, Questar 700 brochure, 1981.
15 Questar Corporation, “Questar Serial Number Systems,” n.d., https://www.questarcorporation.com/start.htm, accessed July 3, 2019; Ralph Foss, “Questar Timeline” (unpublished manuscript, September 22, 2007, revised September 19, 2009), typescript; “Questar Products Index & Overview Page,” Company Seven, n.d., http://www.company7.com/questar/index.html, accessed November 5, 2019.
16 Questar Corporation, Instruments and Accessories catalog, 1978; Questar Corporation, Instruments and Accessories catalog, 1983.
17 Questar Corporation, Instruments and Accessories catalog, 1988.
18 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, August 1979, inside front cover.
19 Questar Corporation, “The Questar 12,” 1979.
20 Questar Corporation, “The Questar 12,” 1979.
21 Questar Corporation, “Questar 12 Instruction Manual,” n.d.
22 Questar Corporation, “Questar 12 Instruction Manual,” n.d.
23 “The Questar 12 Telescope,” Company Seven, n.d., http://www.company7.com/library/questar/q12.html, accessed February 28, 2021; Stuart Parkerson, “Edward R. Byers Company to End Production of Astronomy Mounts After More Than 60 Years in Business,” Astronomy Technology Today, March 12, 2019, https://astronomytechnologytoday.com/2019/03/12/edward-r-byers-company-to-end-production-of-astronomy-mounts-after-more-than-60-years-in-business/, accessed March 15, 2021.
24 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, June 1981, inside front cover; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, June 1981, 48.
25 Questar Corporation, “The Questar 12,” 1979; Questar Corporation, “The Questar 12 and the Questar Mount,” 1979.
26 Questar Corporation, “The Questar 12,” 1979.
27 Questar Corporation, “The Questar 12 and the Questar Mount,” 1979.
28 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, March 1981, inside front cover; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Astronomy, March 1981, 51.
29 Walter MacDonald, “The Questar 12 Experience,” Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Newsletter 80, no. 1 (1986): L16, http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1986JRASC..80L..15M, accessed February 19, 2021.
30 Walter MacDonald, “The Questar 12 Experience,” Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Newsletter 80, no. 1 (1986): L16, http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1986JRASC..80L..15M, accessed February 19, 2021.
31 Questar Corporation, “The Questar 12,” 1979.
32 Walter MacDonald, “The Questar 12 Experience,” Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Newsletter 80, no. 1 (1986): L16, http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1986JRASC..80L..15M, accessed February 19, 2021.
33 Questar Corporation, “The Questar 12,” 1979.
34 Questar Corporation, Instruments and Accessories catalog, 1980.
35 Questar Corporation, “Prices for Questar 12 Barrel Only,” n.d.; Questar Corporation, “Prices for Questar 12 Barrel Only,” August 18, 1980; Questar Corporation, “Prices for Questar 12,” January 1, 1982.
36 “US Median Income by Year,” multpl.com, n.d., https://www.multpl.com/us-median-income/table/by-year, accessed August 14, 2020.
37 “The Questar 12 Telescope,” Company Seven, n.d., http://www.company7.com/library/questar/q12.html, accessed February 28, 2021.
38 Rodger Gordon to the author, September 23, 2020.
39 “The Questar 12 Telescope,” Company Seven, n.d., http://www.company7.com/library/questar/q12.html, accessed February 28, 2021; Stewart Squires, Alt-Telescopes-Questar Majordomo list message, July 12, 1998, digest 212, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/files/Alt-Telescopes-Questar%20Digests/, accessed October 14, 2019.
40 “The Questar 12 Telescope,” Company Seven, n.d., http://www.company7.com/library/questar/q12.html, accessed February 28, 2021.
41 Alt-Telescopes-Questar Majordomo list message, December 29, 1997, digest 108, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/files/Alt-Telescopes-Questar%20Digests/, accessed October 14, 2019; online forum posting, Questar Users Group, June 28, 2003, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/5435, accessed November 5, 2019; Jim Perkins, email message to author, March 10, 2021.
42 Alt-Telescopes-Questar Majordomo list message, December 29, 1997, digest 109, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/files/Alt-Telescopes-Questar%20Digests/, accessed October 14, 2019; Questar Corporation, Instruments and Accessories catalog, 1978 (second revision).
43 Alt-Telescopes-Questar Majordomo list message, December 29, 1997, digest 109, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/files/Alt-Telescopes-Questar%20Digests/, accessed October 14, 2019.
44 Online forum posting, Questar Users Group, June 28, 2003, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/5435, accessed November 5, 2019; online forum posting, Questar Users Group, November 9, 2003, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/6552, accessed November 5, 2019. There are inconsistencies between these two sources regarding the exact count of 25th Anniversary Questars with Cer-Vit mirrors. The posting of June 28, 2003, indicates that “less than 10” of the first 25th Anniversary Questars had Cer-Vit mirrors while the posting of November 9, 2003, indicates that the first five units—serial numbers 1, 2, 5, 14, and 25, as chosen by their buyers—were the only ones with Cer-Vit mirrors.
45 Online forum posting, Questar Users Group, June 28, 2003, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/5437, accessed October 24, 2019; online forum posting, Questar Users Group, November 9, 2003, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/6552, accessed November 5, 2019.
46 Online forum posting, Questar Users Group, June 28, 2003, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/5435, accessed November 5, 2019.
47 Questar Corporation, “Eyepieces Used by Questar,” n.d., http://www.questarcorporation.com/eyepiece.htm, accessed July 3, 2019.
48 Online forum posting, Questar Users Group, July 28, 2010, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/21091, accessed November 5, 2019.
49 Questar Corporation, instruments and accessories catalog, 1981.
50 Online forum posting, Questar Users Group, July 28, 2010, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/21091, accessed November 5, 2019.
51 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, February 1983, inside front cover.
52 Questar Corporation, Instruments and Accessories catalog, 1983.
53 Alt-Telescopes-Questar Majordomo list message, January 19, 1998, digest 119, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/files/Alt-Telescopes-Questar%20Digests/, accessed October 14, 2019.
54 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, May 1984, 66A.
55 Questar Corporation, Instruments and Accessories catalog, 1988.
56 Questar Corporation, Questar booklet, 1968, 30.
57 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, July 1969, inside front cover; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, July 1969, 95; Dah Yu Cheng, Robert E. Dannenberg, and Walter E. Stephens, “A Novel Use of a Telescope to Photograph Metal Diaphragm Openings,” AIAA Journal 7, no. 6 (1969): 1209-1211.
58 Questar Corporation, Questar booklet, 1972, 21.
59 Questar Corporation, “Optical Systems for Special Applications,” 1975.
60 Questar Corporation, Questar booklet, 1972, 18.
61 Rodger Gordon to the author, September 23, 2020.
62 Barry Kawa, unpublished essay on Douglas Knight and Maurice Sweiss (unpublished manuscript, n.d.), typescript, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/files/Questar%20Manuals/, accessed October 14, 2019.
63 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, June 1971, 55.
64 Questar Corporation, “Questar-Autocollimator,” 1972.
65 Questar Corporation, “Questar-Autocollimator,” 1972.
66 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, December 1974, 167; Questar Corporation, “Optical Systems for Special Applications,” 1975.
67 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, October 1975, 137; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Industrial Research, October 1975, 102; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, October 1980, 187.
68 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, January 1981, inside front cover; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Astronomy, January 1981, 63.
69 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Industrial Research & Development, May 1982, 200; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, June 1983, 120; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Biomedical Communications, June 1983, 10.
70 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, April 1986, 91; M. Fejer, J. Nightingale, G. Magel, and R. Byer, “Single-Crystal Fiber Applications Include Nonlinear Optical Effects,” Laser Focus, October 1985, 60-64.
71 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, April 1989, 9; Questar Corporation, “Questar Serial Number Systems,” n.d., https://www.questarcorporation.com/start.htm, accessed July 3, 2019.
72 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, July 1984, 19.
73 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, September 1987, 88B.
74 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, March 1990, 127.
75 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, March 1990, inside front cover.