Sky and Telescope
binoculars are best for which users. The author explores
different models that he has had experience with and offers advice.
accumulated 4 pairs of binoculars, 3 of which were purchased specifically
for backyard astronomy, I have come to some conclusions about binoculars
and their use to observe the night sky. Before I begin I should make it
clear that none of these 4 pairs coast more than $150 to buy, so I'm not
able to talk about premium binoculars such as the
Fujinon or Miyauchi or other high-end binoculars, but those are probably
outside the realm of interest for this site in any case.
First, here is a quick list of the binoculars referred to in this article:
Tasco 10x50 Model 2023 (had these for years; really cheap; have recently
seen this same model for sale, new, for $40!)
Nikon Action 12x50
Pentax PCF V 16x60
Orion 15x70 LW
The old Tasco 10x50 binocs are just fine for giving a broad view of the
night sky, but you can't see much of individual objects such as the
Messiers. I used these quite a bit as a finder for my telescope before
adding to my binocular collection. They're light weight, purely hand-held,
have an unusually wide & pleasing field of view, and the optics are
more than satisfactory given the very low price.
More recently I acquired the other 3 binoculars shown above; the first of
these new ones for me was the Pentax 16x60. These have been OK, but they
have a very narrow field of view and there is something a little funny
about the views of the night sky which make them not entirely pleasing.
Perhaps they are slightly out of collimation, perhaps not, but whatever
the case, they have been used less and less recently.
Next came the Nikon 12x50s, purchased mostly because they were available,
used but in pristine condition, at a good price, and they have the tripod
mounting threads, something not present on the old Tascos which these were
intended to replace. Optically these are a bit
better than the old Tascos, but they didn't knock my socks off.
The most recent addition, the Orion 15x70s, purchased used but in good
condition, have, alone among these 4 pairs of binoculars, provided me with
what I was looking for all along. Even though these are the light weight
Orions, they are always tripod-mounted so as to avoid the inevitable
shakes. These are the binoculars which have caused the Pentax 16X60s to
remain in the case, despite the increasing seagull-distortion effect on
stars in the outer 30% or so of the field of view.
The most important conclusions I have drawn from my experience with these
various binoculars are:
1. For viewing individual night sky objects such as the Messiers, other
asterisms and simply to bring more of the celestial wonders to your eyes,
BEGIN with 15x70 binoculars. Even at a touch lower power, the
light-gathering ability of the 70mm objectives seems to be significantly
greater than that of the 60mm Pentax binocs and deliver the kind of
binocular views of the night sky I'd been hoping to achieve. To tell the
truth, the 16x60 Pentax binocs are going to be sold; they are good &
will serve the buyer well--until he or she tries a 70mm or 80mm pair!
2. Keep a pair of low-power, wide field binoculars like the 10x50 or
12x50. These are wonderful for scanning the heavens, locating specific
areas and brighter objects, and serve well as a hand-held spotting scope
when working with a telescope. And they are of course also very good for
daytime, terrestrial observing.
In other words, if I knew at the beginning what I know now and had no
binoculars at all, I would buy a pair of 10x50 or 12x50 binocs, plus the
15x70s, and that would be that. Binocular aperture fever will likely take
me to an 80mm pair and perhaps even to the monster 100mm level, but for
someone new to binocular astronomy who also doesn't want to spend a huge
amount of cash, I'd suggest cutting out the middle man and start with at
least 15x70 binocs for satisfying night sky observing. Orion, Oberwerk and
a few others offer 15x70 binocs, so check 'em out.
Submitted by Chris Rasmussen