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Stephen B Elder Jr
(selder) - M

Locale: Front range CO
Stargazing on 07/29/2011 23:42:40 MDT Print View

From a recent "other hobbies" thread:

"I combine my avocation (backpacking to those dark, dark, non-light-polluted skies with my vocation, astronomy. The combination is stargazing, which is why my trail name is . . .


Rather than hijack the hobby thread I thought I'd start this and see if Doug or others could share suggestions for solo hiking.
Some times I am under some what dark skies with time on my hands, and I've considered looking for deep space objects. I am not asking about what's UL enough for thru hikers, what to carry every day or regularly or even often but rather what's luggable enough for someone willing to make gazing one of the goals of the trip.
Naked eye observation has its charms but also serious limitations even for the eagle eyed, and I am anything but.
A telescope on an astronomical mount is more than I'd like to carry solo. Ditto for a proper set of binoculars, again requiring at least a tripod.
I am expecting that the best compromise of weight and performance would be binoculars which could be hand held, me lying down or leaning against a rock or tree. I would expect that generally any binoculars would be better than none, but that there might be a sweet spot of WEIGHT vs IMAGE QUALITY.
I have a decent pair of 10x25's which weigh 13.9 oz. Optics Planet is high on 7x50's for hand held use, but now we're at 40ish oz, for example

I'm inclined to go for the 2.5 POUND option for hikes where I plan on stargazing,
but before I do, I thought I'd better ask those who have actually done it...I am not really high on Steiner or Swaro as a solution, but could probably be nudged ito Nikon...

Thanks and have fun,

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: Tokyo, Japan
Stargazing binocular on 07/30/2011 05:48:59 MDT Print View

The Fujinon FMT 10x50 and Nikon 7x50 SP are considered the gold standards for handheld astro binos. But they are a little heavy, expensive, and because they are individual focus have limited use during the day. 10x may be a little hard to hold steady too, especially on cold nights so a 7x50mm center focus bino might be a better choice.

Try the Vixen Foresta 7x50 porro. It is a good value for ~$260.

It is somewhat unique as it uses triplet objective lenses while most binos in this class use doublets. Comes with a nice hiker style case too.

Also in the same price range, the Bushnell Legend 8x/10x42mm Ultra HD is a great choice in the much lighter, smaller roof prism class. Superb for daytime nature watching too. I'd get the cool camo 10x model.

Edited by rmjapan on 07/30/2011 05:59:37 MDT.

Allan Peretz
(alibi) - F

Locale: The Ozarks
Stargazing Binos on 07/30/2011 05:56:40 MDT Print View

If you're willing to pay the price (and carry the weight) the Canon 10x42 IS L is just incredible. Image stabilization and really bright image makes them a true delight. Fully waterproof as well!

See review at:

Stephen B Elder Jr
(selder) - M

Locale: Front range CO
Stargazing binos on 07/31/2011 11:11:28 MDT Print View

Rick and Allan, thank you VERY much for your have really cut the clutter and pointed me to three perfect choices!!
The Canon 10x42 IS L sounds like a dream. My only IS experience is with inexpensive cameras, but I have been very favorably impressed, and as I'm wanting to do as well as possible without a tripod and mount, the Canon sounds like the best stable image solution. It IS a commitment of resources for sure, and for now I'm afraid restraint wins out. If I become an astro bino addict...
I had run across the Fujinon in previous searches and it DOES seem to be the gold standard, and has been on my short list. I was not aware of the Vixen, and it has become my front runner. Weight is an upside, and bang for the buck seems pretty high. I'm thinking Vixen for now, and if I get to where I never leave the house without an astro binoc, then the Fujinon or Canon.
Thanks again,

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Consider a monocular on 07/31/2011 12:06:05 MDT Print View

Just back from the trail.

Barska makes a pretty decent pair of 42 mm binos. It was my pair of choice given the cost and weight.

Since most branded binos are made in Japan by Barska (and a couple of other Japanese optical companies) anyway, buying the home-branded, expensive binos is a waste of money. What you're often paying for is the fact that the name brands, like Canon or Vixen, are particularly meticulous about checking their binos for collimation after the shipment comes in from Japan. Whatever the brand, test the collimation, and send them back if you don't get what you want. Frankly, I'm leery of buying any optical instrument by mail. My current favorite 50mms are are from Kmart, but I had to look at every pair they had (six of them) before I could get one that brought the two images together adequately.

In the end, you'll save a lot of weight and get the same image quality by purchasing a 42 mm monocular. Orion, which specializes in astronomical telescopes and binos, sells a their great version of the 42 mm Barska monocular.

Also, if you're going to spend as much money as you plan to, you might consider buying a 7 x 50 mm pair. Orion has a great pair for $99.

Check around on Orion's web page and you'll find great bargains. Also, check out their buying guide. Differences in binos are subtle. Is the is pupil at least 4.2 mm (the bigger, the better up to about 6 mm, which is as wide as most older folks' pupils ever get)? What magnification? I find that with my long experience I can't hold anything above 10x steady, and I prefer 7x.

I don't carry my 50 mm's on the trail because of the weight, but I live by my 50's at all other times. If you don't mind the weight, 50's give much better images of deep-sky objects. If weight is an issue, then don't go below 42 mm.

Most of all, remember that price and brand name are not necessarily marks of quality. Generics are often just as good, and much less expensive. Test the binos on the real sky, and keep sending them back until you get the well- collimated pair you want.


Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Stargazing on 07/31/2011 16:32:29 MDT Print View

"Since most branded binos are made in Japan by Barska "
Barska is a US based company .
As far as I know they don't even have an office in Japan let alone manufacturing plants.
My understanding is that it is a marketing company with some R&D but no manufacturing.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Barska on 07/31/2011 16:44:50 MDT Print View

They are the main marketeer and distributor for Japanese optics, mostly lens based. Their prices are the lowest in general that I can find.


PS. Added later. The point is that if you buy Barska (or Orion), you're buying the same Japanese binos that Canon, etc. sells with the brand name stuck on it. You might as well buy the least expensive version and send them back if they are not well collimated. The difference in price can be stunning if you don't mind the generic version. Those branded $279 binos can be had for $100 or so from Orion or Barska.

Edited by nerdboy52 on 07/31/2011 17:09:15 MDT.

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: Tokyo, Japan
optics 101 on 07/31/2011 17:45:18 MDT Print View

There are no binoculars currently Made in USA.

Barska is just one of hundreds of rebranders in the USA of "generic" binoculars/optics MADE IN CHINA. That is why they are so similar and inexpensive.

Canon makes only proprietary IMAGE STABILIZED binoculars. They use an IS technology developed from their camera lens business. Their binoculars are unique in design and have not been copied by the Chinese.

Nikon, Pentax, Fujinon, Vixen etc., also have some of their optics line Made in China under contract but their very best/most expensive binoculars are still Made in Japan.

The Euro brand binos of Zeiss, Swaro, Leica, and Meopta are all still Made in Germany/Austria/Czech repectively.

Good non-IS optics cost between ~$200-$700. Less than that, and the optical/mechanical quality suffers. More than that, and you start to pay for the brand name, warranty/service repair policies, and improvements in optical quality that are hard to see in practical use.

Suggest you visit the binocular forum for more help and accurate info.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Stargazing on 07/31/2011 17:56:24 MDT Print View

Any reasonable scope, bino, or mono is going to be the heaviest piece of equipment in your pack. I rarely carry anything, because I have a decent night sky at home and am only 50 miles from Joshua Tree, so my stargazing tends to be done when camping with my tent trailer or at home.

Once in a great while I bring a pair of Nikon Monarch binos (8 X 42), but it is more for bird watching. I like these because they are rubber coated and waterproof. Total weight with case is around 26 ounces. For stargazing you probably want at least 50mm. If I was in the market for astro-binos I would look at the Orion brand. Value priced and reasonable quality.

One thing I have never done is to bring a finder scope from the telescope by it self. Mine is 9X50mm and has a 90 degree correcting eye piece. However you cannot adjust it and it has a cross hatch in the lens. Also, don't know if it can be removed from the mount. But with something like this it would be pretty easy to hold with two hands against your chest and your head would be tilted down.

When BPing, I really prefer to lay down on my back at night and just watch the entire sky without the aid of optics. Plus if I want to observe deep sky objects I am spoiled with motor drives.

Nowadays, most optics are going to be made in China, unless you purchase top of the line stuff. My Nikon binos are made in China. Also a lot of this stuff doesn't have the country printed on them (some of my optics). But made in China is not necessarily a bad thing. I have several 2" eye pieces for my telescope that are made in China for a company named Knight OWL. I have been very happy with them. Some of my older inexpensive eye pieces (Parks) were made in Japan.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Stargazing on 07/31/2011 18:29:04 MDT Print View

"The point is that if you buy Barska (or Orion), you're buying the same Japanese binos that Canon, etc. sells with the brand name stuck on it."

No you are not. Same and somewhat similar is not the ...same
Most of the binos sold by the traditional camera brands are either designed in house and made by one of the bino manufacturers or are a custom version of a factory design.
Occasionally a brand like Pentax or Minolta will sell the same generic model available under many brands however they still exercise a higher quality control level than the many generic brands you find in a shop.
The Japanese manufacturer ,(Kamakura), that makes binos for Nikon and other well known brands happens to have a plant in China, however the machinery, chassis and glass, including the coating, is exactly the same as when that model was made in Japan.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Stargazing on 07/31/2011 19:00:39 MDT Print View

>> just watch the entire sky without the aid of optics

Agree with Nick. No optics necessary when backpacking.

If you learn a few constellations then you will see what ancient people saw. Or if you just stare for a while then you can make up your own shapes.

On my last recent backpacking trip, I saw a couple of really amazing night skies. I fell asleep one night and work up right before moon rise. Was amazed how the moon light brightened the night sky.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
The bottom line, IMHO on 07/31/2011 19:31:52 MDT Print View

Bless you, folks. I disagree with love and respect. The real diehards -- I am one of them, mind you -- around my observatory argue the niceties of manufacture and place of manufacture all the time as they do on forums like the one on "cloudynights." However, not even the $1500 Zeiss binos outperform my $50 Kmart specials, at least not $1450 worth. Whether they are marketed in Japan, China, or (as you point out very well Franco) most likely a Japanese firm made in China, the main elements to consider are aperture, exit pupil, and general manufacturing quality, which often boils down to collimation. (Also, make sure that all the surfaces are anit-reflection coated -- multicoated.) The price difference between a fine pair of German binoculars and a generic pair of Japanese/ Chinese binoculars is stunning, and you're not getting a concomitant improvement in the image.

And even the branded versions can suffer from bad collimation despite better quality control. I just advised a beginner to send a very expensive pair back for just that reason. Despite the excellent quality control, they still didn't combine the two images -- perhaps because they were dropped in the mail or perhaps because they weren't well aligned in the first place. That's why I generally advise that you go to a store and simply try them out on a distant object until you get a pair that suits you.

Other qualities are important, as well. Do the eyepieces focus separately, for example? Read the buying guide on the Orion web site for more details.

Whatever the place of manufacture, my general advice still holds. IMO, get the cheap, generic ones, and hold out until one of them is well collimated.

And also, consider a monocular, as well. (You might have to go mail order to get one.) They weigh less than half that of binos, and they produce equivalent images. Again, Barska sells a decent one -- light, inexpensive, and more than adequate to the needs of a beginning binocular stargazer.

Seriously, I've been doing this for 47 years. My first binoculars were an ultra-cheap pair of plastic-lens, flip-open opera glasses. I was entranced. In the fullness of time, I developed the observing skills to want a pair of Zeiss binoculars, but their quality would have been lost on me as a newbie. If, in the fullness of time, you begin to notice the subtle differences, sell the generics -- heck, I'll buy them from you and pass them on to another beginner -- and make the investment in a brand-name pair. In the meantime, you might decide that you don't like observing with binos, and your investment in those $279 Canons will seem like a waste of money. I've seen this happen all-to-many times: "M13 looks like a little fuzzy thing." Don't buy a Jaguar when a Honda Fit will get you to work just fine, and you might decide that you don't particularly like driving in the first place.



Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Stargazing with binoculars on 07/31/2011 20:04:38 MDT Print View

>> just watch the entire sky without the aid of optics

>Agree with Nick. No optics necessary when backpacking.

Well, shoot, gents. I agree in principle. There's nothing better than a view of the summer Milky way with the binoculars you were born with, your own two eyeballs.

However, the same view in binos (or monocular) is pretty spectacular. Start in Sagittarius to the south and marvel at the nebulae, star clouds, and star clusters. Then work your way slowly to the unbelievably beautiful star fields in Cygnus. Then keep on going to the other horizon until the trees tell you to stop. You will see your world, and your universe, in a wholly new light.

For 10,000 years, humans had no clue what that silvery band was. They thought it was made of milk, for goodness sakes. In a matter of minutes you can replicate that first world-changing view that Galileo had in a telescope far inferior to your $50 binoculars. He showed us that the universe was vast beyond measure and that it was filled with uncountable stars. You knew intellectually already that he's right. But you won't really know -- not in your head but in your heart, where it counts -- until you have seen the Milky Way from dark, dark skies with any sort of optical aid.


P.S. But anyway, I've had my say on these matters. So now i will withdraw and let the discussion continue without me.


Tim Zen
(asdzxc57) - F

Locale: MI
Re: Stargazing with binoculars on 07/31/2011 21:29:54 MDT Print View

SG -- this happens to me during every nightly bio call. Probably the best part of backpacking (the stars). Optics or not, it it the best view in the house.