Various Eyepiece and Accessory Reviews

Page 1 By Ed Ting Updated 5/21/02

1) Televue Plossls (various) 2) Meade Series 4000 Plossls (various) 3) Celestron Ultima 30 mm eyepiece 4a) Meade MA 25 mm eyepiece 4b) Celestron SMA 25 eyepiece 5a) Lumicon UHC filter 5b) Orion Ultrablock filter 6) Meade 18 mm SWA eyepiece 7) TeleVue 1.8X and 3X, Meade #140 barlow lenses 8) Celestron Pro 7X50 binoculars 9) Meade 40 mm SWA 2" eyepiece 10) TeleVue Quik Point finder 11) Paul Rini's eyepieces
1) TeleVue Plossls (various) These are my workhorse eyepieces. Along with the Meade 4000 Plossls and the Celestron Ultimas, the TeleVues are the best of the standard Plossls. I have tried the 7.4, 8, 10.5, 13, 15, 17, 20, 25, 26, 40, and 55 mm. These are excellent, sharp, and contrasty, offering up a generous 50 degree field of view (except the 40 mm, which has a 43 degree FOV.) The 17 mm, which used to be supplied with the Ranger/Pronto and Genesis as standard, is no longer available (they now ship the 20 mm instead). This is a shame, since the 17 mm is one my favorites. The 8 mm is a little too small for my comfort level; at this focal length I'd opt for a Nagler 7 or 9 instead. Ditto for the 10.5 mm. I also briefly looked through the giant 55 mm model (2" only). It looks like one of the big Naglers (except it has this strange tapered top), and carries a Nagler-like $250 list price. I only looked through it for about 2-3 minutes through a superb modified orange-tube C8, but I can say I was impressed. I eventually bought a 40 mm (used). It's the older version, without the rubber grip or eyecup. Aside from the usual problems associated with 40 mm eyepieces - too-long eye relief, a view that's a little hard to hold, etc. - it's very clear and sharp, even at the edges, on my f/8 refractor. It throws up a slightly better view than the Meade Series 3000 Plossl (also an excellent eyepiece, by the way.) In short, I think I may have found a 40 mm eyepiece I can finally live with. Note: The old TeleVue Plossl series were: 7.4, 10.5, 13, 17, 21, 26, 32, 40, and 55 mm. These had no rubber grips or eyecups. The new series is: 8, 11, 15, 20, 25, 32, 40, and 55 mm. These have the rubber grips and eyecups. There is debate (some of it quite silly, in my opinion) as to which series is better. 2) Meade Series 4000 Super Plossls (6.4, 9.7, 12.4, 15, 20, 26 mm, $79.95) (32 mm, 40 mm, $99.95) (56 mm, $199.95) A solid, recommendable set of quality eyepieces. They're parfocal with each other, and offer clear, sharp views. Just get the focal length(s) you need; there isn't one model that sticks out from the rest. As with any Plossl set, the eye relief gets tight, and the lenses get "small" as you go down the range. Everyone has their personal tolerance level, but I find these get "tiny" for me around the 9.7 mm model. Your mileage will vary. All of the models feature a generous 52 degree FOV, except the 40 mm, which is a little narrow at 43 degrees. All Plossls have this issue; there is only so much sky you can fit into a 1.25" barrel. If you do the math, the 40 mm winds up showing you about the same amount of sky as the 32 mm. So I usually recommend the 32 mm for low power fans. The 56 mm is in a 2" barrel only and has long (maybe too long) eye relief. Some mind this, some don't. Try before you buy. One thing I like about the Series 4000 Plossls is the threaded poly bottle that comes with every eyepiece (the #140 APO barlow, too). They're great for long term storage and shows some thoughtfulness on the part of the designers. More manufacturers should copy this. Quibbles are minor. These don't have fully multi-coated optics (the lenses look a little "bright" in daylight compared to the TeleVues, for example) but in practice this is of little or no concern. Also, unlike TeleVue, Meade does not (as of this writing) repair broken eyepieces. So be sure and take care of 'em. I often get asked where these eyepieces stand, in the grand scheme of things. Based on what I've seen, I'd say these are the beginning of the high-end for eyepieces. Any gains past this point are incremental at best, and usually are accompanied by large price increases. These 4000s deliver high quality images at a still-reasonable cost. Warmly recommended. 3) The Celestron Ultima 30 mm At about $100 (street), this 50 degree FOV eyepiece delivers sweet and contrasty low power views. It is a serious contender in the 30-35 mm category. I didn't have a Meade or TeleVue 32 mm handy for comparison, but I'm sure they'd get a run for their money. Very nice, extremely well- built, and a good value. Same as the Orion Ultrascopic. 4a) The Meade MA (Modified Achromat) 25 mm "What, is he joking?" I can read the e-mails already. This ubiquitous eyepiece ($37.95) is made like popcorn by Meade and shipped out with all of their less expensive scopes. I used to have a drawer full of them. When I moved, I lost most of them. Now my drawer seems to be filling up again (I am convinced they have found a way to reproduce). Actually, I find there are a couple of uses for this ultra-cheap 40 degree FOV eyepiece. 1) It makes a good diagonal or focuser cap. Actually, it's better than your standard cap, since you can look through it to check polar alignment. 2) Once, at a public star party, a kid eating an ice cream cone walked up to my scope, pushed his finger into my 9 mm Nagler, and said, "Do I look in here?" There was no damage to the Nagler, (lucky for the kid, huh?) but I learned my lesson. The MA 25s are now my Star Party eyepieces. Having several means I can put one in each scope. The MA 25's optical performance is good. Objects within the inner 2/3 of the FOV are respectably sharp, though almost any Plossl or Ortho of decent quality will dispose of it (replacing the MA 25 with my TeleVue 25 mm Plossl is like peeling away a thin layer of dirty film from the image). The field stop is kind of mushy, and my older versions do not have blackened edges. The quality of the coatings on some of them are not the best, either (you can see a bright reflection of yourself, looking into the lens). Considering its modest performance, it's surprising how much trouble Meade has taken to upgrade it during the past 20 years. Older versions have a straight barrel, with a double knurled ring assembly mid-way up. The words "Multi Coated" were blue. A newer version had a longer barrel assembly, looking almost like a 40 mm eyepiece, and the words "Multi Coated" were in white. The current series has a contoured dimple near the top, no knurled barrel at all, and all the words are written on the side of the barrel. I prefer the views through the older versions, especially the 40 mm unit. 4b) Celestron 25 mm SMA eyepiece ($35 from various retailers) Celestron's version of the "standard" 25 mm Kellner is this 25 mm SMA, which is supplied with all of their less-expensive scopes. When A/B'd against the Meade MA25 (above) two of us could not tell them apart. Both the MA25 and the SMA25 are decent, general-purpose eyepieces, although newcomers should still upgrade to good Plossls at the earliest opportunity. 5a) The Lumicon UHC filter I held off buying one of these things for the longest time because of its reputation in some quarters as a "gimmick". Nothing could be further from the truth. The Lumicon UHC (and its soul mate, the Orion Ultrablock) work by drastically reducing the amount of skyglow in your view. Most astronomical targets emit light within specified ranges of the light spectrum (primarily the H-alpha, H-beta, and O-III lines, plus most of the area in between). Skyglow is caused by mercury vapor lighting, whose emission lines are separated from H-A, H-B, and O-III. The filter blocks out the "bad" lights, but allows the "good" to pass through. The UHC does NOT make objects look brighter. On the contrary, it makes everything somewhat dimmer. However, since it makes the skyglow much dimmer than the object you're viewing, the effect to you is that the object in question seem brighter and more contrasty. The effect can be quite impressive. Notoriously hard-to-find targets like the Rosette Nebula become easy targets with the UHC. M42 can just about double in size; it just about fills the 1.52 degree FOV with my TeleVue Plossl 25 on the Takahashi. Yes, it's on the expensive side ($100), but if deep sky is what you love to see, you need one of these! 5b) The Orion Ultrablock filter I tested the Ultrablock side by side with the Lumicon (above). Surprise - they are not the same. The Lumicon passes more light and produces brighter images. However, I found on M42, the Ultrablock seems to show more detail, and is subjectively "sharper" (i.e. easier to focus on pinpoint images like stars). Two of us found that after a few minutes practice on M42, we could identify "blind" which filter was which - not difficult. Our explanation for this is that the two filters have slightly different bandpass wavelengths. Like the UHC, also about $100. 6) The Meade 18 mm SWA A very good eyepiece. This 67 Degree FOV eyepiece delivers sharp, bright views across the field. At $150, it's a deal as well (the 19 mm Panoptic is $220-$250). The 18 mm SWA, along with its stable-mate, the 24.5 mm SWA ($180), are pro- bably my favorite eyepieces in the Meade lineup today. However, the 19 mm Panoptic is sharper, especially at the edges. The Meade SWA series appear to be clones of the old TeleVue Wide-Fields. While excellent for their time, the Wide-Fields/SWAa are a design generation behind the Panoptics. The Panoptic does cost more though. Your move. 7) The TeleVue 1.8X and 3X Barlows, The Meade #140 2X Barlow I have a love-hate relationship with barlow lenses. I love how they increase power while preserving the eye relief and large lenses of my low-mid power eyepieces. In practice, however, barlows don't always work well. Early versions were of poor quality, and even the "good" new ones sometimes vignette the image. Then there's the issue of light loss and mechanical stability. Try this experiment. Pick your favorite eyepiece and look through it towards a moderately bright, uniformly-lit target. Note how bright the image is. Now, while looking through the eyepiece, slip a barlow lens on it (like drunk taking a sobriety test, this may take you a few tries before you get it right.) Now, note how the image dims. Some barlows will even change the color slightly. Still, I concede that barlows are useful, even necessary accessories. All three models listed above are of high quality. If it weren't for the obvious differences in magnification, I'd have trouble telling them apart. I have not found this to be true, however, with lower priced (under $50) barlows. The caveat for the barlow buyer, therefore, is to buy quality units. 8) Celestron 7X50 Pro binoculars A good step up in quality from the $40 binos sold by Jason, Tasco, Bushnell, etc. While shopping for these, I also tried the Olympus 7X50 EXPS (avoid the cheap 10X50 DPS!), and the Pentax 7X50 PCFIII. While the Olympus glasses seemed a little too light and flimsy for serious use, the Pentaxes were at the other end of the scale -- big , beefy, and heavy. The Celestrons were right in the middle, rugged enough for repeated use, but not overbuilt. I bought the Celestrons because they were a little cheaper in cost, but I admit I liked the Pentaxes too. The Pro's images are bright and clear, with very little ghosting and sharp optics almost to the edge. Eye relief is very good, but I have yet to test this with an eyeglass wearer. Runs in the $130-$170 range. 9) Meade 40 mm Super Wide Angle eyepiece ($299.95) Here's a large (2" only) eyepiece for low power fans who own long f/ ratio scopes. At f/10 and longer, the big porthole glass delivers nice images, but as you get shorter, aberrations start to creep in near the edges. Audition befre buying. 10) The TeleVue Quik Point finder Made by Daisy, this 1X finder is also available as the Celestron Star Pointer (#51630). The Orion EZ Finder also appears to be the same unit with a cover. This "finder" projects a tiny red dot at infinity. There's a day/night switch and a dimmer control mounted on a flimsy circuit board that's exposed to the elements. The on/off switch is miniscule and difficult to find in the dark, especially with gloves on.
TeleVue Quik Point
The Quik Point is billed as an inexpensive alternative to the clunky Telrad units. Yes, it does look nicer, but the viewing window is tiny, and you will lose a magnitude or more due to the half-silvering of the lens element. There are also no illuminated bullseye rings, like on the Telrad. I bought one for the Ranger and it works well. However, finding galaxies in the dim regions within Virgo, Ursa Major, etc, is no fun at all. On a larger instrument, you will still want a conventional finder. I like having BOTH a 1X device and a magnifying finder on anything over 6". Runs between $35 and $45. 11) The Strange and Wonderful Eyepieces of Paul Rini Paul Rini has been selling eyepieces from his New Jersey home for several years now, using surplus lenses from Edmund, Zeiss, and various military sources. When I spoke with him, he estimated that he still had about a 2-year supply of lenses left. In other words, at some point he will eventually run out of lenses. Rini says he isn't particularly interested in making money, so he's pretty much just giving these eyepieces away. Rini's 17 eyepieces run from 13 mm up through an amazing 100 mm. About half of them are 2" barrel only. By staying away from the high-power end of the spectrum, Rini avoids the many engineering problems associated with short focal length eyepieces. The designs range from 3 to 6 elements, ranging from 28 to 82 degree fields of view. Some elements are coated; some aren't. Housings are made of black thermoplastic or aluminum. The quality of construction ranges from fair to good. These eyepieces are cheap. Rini asks $17.50 for each 1.25", and only $39.50 for each 2" model (the 32mm and the 29mm 2" models are $44.50 and $49.50.) There's a $4 charge per order for shipping. (Please note, however, that Rini has been known to change his prices from time to time; check before ordering.) When you mail in your order (Rini doesn't accept credit cards) Paul assembles your eyepieces and ships them out to you. This takes about 2 weeks. I was intrigued by all that I'd heard about these eyepieces, so I ordered a few: the 16mm, the 33mm, and the 40mm. All were in 1.25" barrels. Exactly two weeks later, they arrived in a Priority Mail carton. The 33mm and 40 mm look almost identical and might be mistaken at first glance for inexpensive Plossls from a major manufacturer. The 16mm looks home made and is a little cheesy-looking. Running them over a piece of paper in daylight reveals some significant pin-cushion distortion. None of them are labeled, and the barrels aren't threaded for filters. In the telescope, these eyepieces perform far better than their prices would suggest. Views of M42, M35, and M45 were quite pleasing in the Ranger. Stars were bright pinpoints, and contrast was good. I found it hard to hold the view in the 40mm, so I wound up using the 33mm and the 16mm. On objects with lots of stars like the Double Cluster, you can see some astigmatism and coma in the outer 20% or so of the field of view. M81 and M82 were nicely framed with the 16mm, which has an impressive 60 degree field of view. However, I found the eye relief of the 16mm to be a lot shorter than the rated 8mm. With just these Rinis in hand, I was almost tempted to think that they were objectively great eyepieces. Then I ran some comparisons. The 17mm TeleVue Plossl is considerably sharper and more contrasty throughout the field than the 16mm. And the 33mm can't keep up with a 30mm Celestron Ultima. Also, the field stops on the Rinis are pretty poor, compared with the more expensive eyepieces. Finally, the barrels were VERY tight in the eyepiece holders on all the scopes I tried (the 33 mm wouldn't fit at all in the C4.5's drawtube.) When reading the above, you should keep in mind that I spent a grand total of $56.50, including shipping, for three eyepieces. The Rinis are great bargains. They'll come in handy at star parties and for experiments. I bought some, and you should consider doing the same.
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