Various Eyepiece and Accessory Reviews

Page 2 By Ed Ting Updated 4/19/99

1) Thousand Oaks Solar Filter 2) Book: The Year Round Messier Marathon Field Guide 3) Meade Series 3000 40 mm Plossl 4) Intes-Micro 12 mm eyepiece 5) TeleVue 15 mm Wide Field 6) Celestron 8X32 Ultima Binoculars 7) Book: The Cambridge Star Atlas, 2nd Edition 8) Uranometria 2000 9) TeleVue 15 mm Panoptic 10) Celestron 7.5 mm, 18 mm Ultimas 11) Orion 10X50 UltraView Binoculars 12) Starlite by Rigel Systems Flashlight 13) Orion Ultrascopic 35 mm eyepiece 14) TeleVue 19 mm Panoptic 15) Meade 32 mm Superwide 16) Orion 17 mm Sirius Plossl 17) Cheap Taiwanese Equatorial Mount

1) Thousand Oaks Solar Filter (glass) (Full-aperture mounted glass filter, $55-$190, depending on size) Like me, you have probably seen "WARNING: DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN" more times than you care to count. However, with proper protection, looking at the sun can be a rewarding way to spend the afternoon while waiting for dusk to roll around. Be sure to cap your finder! These filters effectively block out over 99.99% of the sun's light. Glass filters are more expensive than mylar ones, but they're sturdier and don't cast a bluish tint to the image. They're worth the extra money. We watched the sun through a C4.5 for a while. We viewed a large group of sun spots that changed as time passed -- they broke up into smaller clumps, and some of them eventually disappeared. If you have a small 60mm-80mm refractor, or some other scope you're not using, you might want to consider converting one of them over to a purely solar instrument, since the filters are cheap in the smaller sizes. 2) Book: The Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide (Harvard Pennington, 196 pages, hardcover, $19.95 plus shipping from Willman-Bell) If you're like me, you've been waiting for a book to supercede Mallas' and Kreimer's acceptable but aging "The Messier Album". This book is it. Aimed squarely at the visual observer, the book makes a good case for holding a Messier Marathon at any time of the year. There's even a chart showing how many M objects are visible at any given month -- the number never drops below 90. There's an unusually thorough introduction to Messier Marathon lore and a good primer to the night sky. The bulk of the book is taken up with detailed charts, and those charts are something else. Pennington gives you at least FOUR methods for finding each Messier object. There's a wide-view of the constellation(s), star field views through an 8X50 finder (right angle AND straight through), and a drawing of the object itself (not a photograph, which we all know can be very misleading). There are check-off boxes and a timing guide, so you know if you're ahead or behind schedule. Also, there are numerous geometric guide lines and 1 degree and 4 degree Telrad circles drawn in. The best thing I can say about this book is that it's got me psyched to do a Messier Marathon. Pennington died before the book could be finished, and there is a "labor of love" feel to it by the people who completed it for him. The book is beautifully made (up to Willman-Bell's high standards) and large, so you can use it in the field. I do wish they would switch to a more dew-resistant paper, however. Finally, there is the price. At $19.95 (W-B only charged me $1 for shipping), you can't afford to pass this one up. Highly recommended. 3) Meade Series 3000 40 mm Plossl At $79.95, this is a great bargain for a 40 mm eyepiece. I find very little difference between the Series 3000 and Series 4000 models. For $20 more, the 4000 offers a rubber grip and eyecup, and that nice threaded poly bottle that other manufacturers should copy. Optically, they are very similar. All 40 mm eyepieces have a few problems; namely, a narrow field of view and a too-long eye relief that has you searching to hold the view still. The latter is especially a problem while panning around, or searching for a dim object. The view keeps blacking out. 4) Intes-Micro 12 mm eyepiece Available from Intes dealers for about $95, this Russian-made eyepiece looks like a clone of the TeleVue 17 mm Plossl (I have confused the two in the dark several times already.) The eyepiece features a huge, 70 degree field of view that rivals the apparent FOV of a Nagler. Unfortunately, there is significant coma towards the edges on any scope faster than f/8 - don't ask me what the view was like on the 8" f/4 Schmidt-Newtonian! Also, the view at the edges is less than sharp on any scope. It's usable with glasses, but to see the whole FOV, you have to get real close. Despite the above, the Intes is a useful (though slightly pricey) mid-power eyepiece. 5) TeleVue 15 mm Wide Field eyepiece The Wide Field eyepieces were available through the 1980's, and were precursors to the Panoptics. You still find them for sale on the second-hand market, which is how I got mine. The 15 mm originally sold for $135 and features a modified Erfle design yielding a 65 degree field of view. There's a slightly unsightly locking ring showing on top. The Wide Field is sharper towards the edges than a conventional Erfle (but less so than a Panoptic). It suffers less from pin-cushion distortion than a Panoptic does. It's definitely sharper at the edges than the 12 mm Intes (above). Eye relief is very good. A nice eyepiece, recommended to those seeking a lower-cost alternative to a Panoptic. 6) Celestron 8X32 Ultima Binoculars A nice, high quality pair of tiny binoculars. They're only 4 1/2" inches from eyepiece to objective! Very cute. I've been intrigued by the possibilities of an 8x32 bino ever since I looked through a pair of 8X32BA Leicas in a camera store. They were sharper, clearer, and -yes- brighter than any other pair of 7X50s in the store! The Celestrons aren't Leica quality of course, but they're very well made. Unlike some models in the Pro series, there's NO light cutoff from the prisms at all. The exit pupils are nice and round. The coatings seem to be the same as the Pro series. I found M81/M82 with no difficulty. My Pro 7X50s are brighter though (and heavier). Eye relief is very good, but the view is still more comfortable without glasses on. Todd Gross has complained about poor edge sharpness in his excellent website. I am afraid I must concur. The view gets mushy towards the edges; lots of astigmatism too. They're useful for quick field scans while at the telescope. Deep sky performance is better than I expected. I'm keeping them. About $180-$200 street. 7) The Cambridge Star Atlas, 2nd Edition (By Will Tirion, Cambridge University Press, $19.95 hardcover only) This is my favorite Mag 6-class star atlas. I rarely go observing without it. It's a spiffed-up, color version of Tirion's older Bright Star Atlas. There's the obligatory opening section on the moon and monthly planisphere views. Beginning on page 40 is a set of 20 beautifully drawn maps in vivid blue, green, yellow, and magenta. There's a lot of overlap between charts. Across from each map is listing of interesting objects, arranged in tabular form. While I've been annoyed by the lack of inclusion of some dimmer galaxies, they're really beyond the scope of a Mag 6.5 atlas. There's some competition. I really like the Edmund Mag 6 Star Atlas, but it's not nearly as well-made as Tirion's. Norton's 2000 is also excellent, but it's much larger and more expensive. Your choice. 8) Uranometria 2000 (Tirion, Rappaport, and Lovi, Willman-Bell) * Volume 1: The Northern Hemisphere to -6 degrees, $39.95 * Volume 2: The Southern Hemisphere to +6 degrees, $39.95 * The Deep Sky Field Guide to Uranometria, $49.95 A very thorough atlas with a few problems. The scale is so large (1 degree takes up 3/4") that you can forget about browsing through the atlas looking for familiar constellations -- anything larger than Lyra is apt to be spread out over many, many pages. In order to find the area of sky you want, you'll have to look it up on a slightly awkward index on the last two pages of the book. And trust me, those last two pages are going to get used a lot. Also, when you open up the book, the "east" chart is on your left, while the "west" chart is on the right. Thus, you have to mentally place the left-hand page to the RIGHT of the right-hand page, to make some sense out of it (the new Millenium Star Atlas remedies this). Observers in the north who think they can get away with just buying Volume 1 are in for a surprise. The -6 degree cutoff means that the Orion Nebula barely makes it into Volume 1. You really do need both volumes, if you're going to buy this atlas. Volume 3 (Deep Sky Guide) isn't really necessary unless you're a completist. It's full of numbers, and a little dry. All three books are hard-bound, and heavy, which limits their portability in the field. Also, Willman-Bell still uses the thristy, dew-collecting paper that's in all their other books. Given the visual appeal of Tirion's other atlases, I was a little disappointed with the clinical, black-and-white star charts in Uranometria. I guess I had to change my expectations a bit. I love browsing through atlases, but Uranometria isn't a "browsing" sort of book. It's a reference book. As the only Mag 9 atlas around, though, it fills a niche for those wanting a thorough star atlas for those who won't (or can't) shell out $275 for the Millenium Star Atlas. Update: There's a new version out, and it's much nicer. The charts are easier to read, are oriented left-right the way you see the sky, and the print and font seem more usable as well. It's time for me to trade up... 9) TeleVue 15 mm Panoptic (15 mm 67 degree FOV eyepiece, 1.25" barrel, about $220 street) I eventually replaced my TeleVue 15 mm Wide Field (above) with this updated unit, with pleasing results. On the downside, the Panoptic has a smaller eye lens, and some of the eye relief went away. In actual use, however, the Panoptic walks all over the Wide Field. The view is almost totally sharp throughout its wide FOV. Stars sitting on the field stop are still pinpoints. The eye relief is still very comfortable, with a little of that -Wow!- feeling you get with a Nagler. And the eyepiece is still small enough to encourage frequent use. Also, I noticed very little of the famed "pin-cushion" distortion (perhaps this is worse, though, on the larger Panoptics.) 10) Celestron 7.5 mm and 18 mm Ultimas The more I use this moderately-priced line of eyepieces (these go for about $80 and $95, street) the more impressed I am. The 30 mm is every bit the equal of the TeleVue 32 mm Plossl, and these two give the TeleVue 8 mm and 17 mm Plossls a serious run for their money. I may even prefer the Ultima 18 to the TeleVue 17 mm and 20 mm Plossls. The views are very sharp, and eye relief seems just right (the TeleVues do seem to be slightly better-made, however.) I consider all the Ultimas to be good values. 11) Orion 10X50 UltraView Binoculars Wonderful binoculars. In comparing these to my 7X50 Pros, I think I actually prefer the Orions. The UltraViews are slightly sharper at the edge, and a pleasure to use. Slightly heavy (32 oz) for their size. This, coupled with the 10X magnification, suggest they are not for the weak-armed. Excellent build quality. They're a bargain at $179. 12) Starlite by Rigel Systems Adjustable LED Flashlight A well thought-out flashlight. Shaped like a rectagular box, this flashlight has a large, contoured thumbwheel (usable with most gloves) that adjusts the brightness of two parallel-mounted LEDs. There's a long detachable drawstring, too, so you can hang it around your neck. The required 9V battery is included. A tad pricey at $24.95, but worth the money in my opinion. 13) Orion Ultrascopic 35 mm eyepiece A superb low-power eyepiece, sporting one of the largest eye lenses (36mm!) in captivity within a 1.25" barrel. Think of it, the eye lens is larger than an objective in a pair of 7X35 binos. As a result, the Ultra 35 throws up a large, picture-window type view that reminds one of the view in a 2" eyepiece. The eye relief is a little on the long side (24 mm), which means the view will black out on you a bit if you pan around with this eyepiece. This black-out phenomenon is common in 40 mm eyepieces and can make you seasick if you are bothered by it. It does bother me, but it's not as bad a typical 40 mm eyepiece. TeleVue 32 mm Plossl comparisions: I ran a quick "duel" between the Ultrascopic and the venerable TV32PL in the Takahashi. Since most users will use these eyepieces for wide-angle, deep-sky views, I concentrated on the Virgo Cluster. The Ultrascopic found all the Messier objects except M91. Stars at the edge were still impressively point-like. However, the TeleVue was just a tiny bit sharper, and seemed to have a bit more contrast on the galaxies, making them easier to pick out. M91 was also invisible to the TeleVue. The contrast might have been due to the greater magnification, I should point out. Like the TeleVue, the Ultrascopic has a high level of fit and finish. It's a tall, large, and heavy chunk of glass. I remind you, these differences were small. Unless you had them side by side, it would be nearly impossible to tell any qualitative differences. Both eyepieces are recommended as superb low power viewing tools. 14) TeleVue 19 mm Panoptic If you have never bought any "premium" eyepieces, this is a great one to start with. Sporting a wider true FOV than your run-of-the-mill 25 mm Kellner, the 19 mm Panoptic (about $250-$260 street) is one of the sharpest eyepieces I have ever used. It has also quickly become one of my favorite eyepieces, of any design. The 19 mm is also small (although a bit stout), and relatively light, which encourages frequent use (smaller eyepieces are like smaller telescopes - they get used more often.) This eyepiece turns out to be just right in both the Ranger and the FS102 for deep sky galaxy-hunting. Drawbacks? Eye relief is still on the short side, but better than the 15 mm Panoptic. Leave your glasses off. Also, there is a bit more of that pin-cushion distortion, but it's not intrusive. And the concave, dished eye lens looks as if it can't wait to collect dust. The advantages of the Panoptic 19 FAR outweigh its disadvantages, I should point out. If you have been contemplating the purchase of this eyepiece, I urge you to do so at once. I own all of the Panoptics and love them all, but the 19 is my favorite of the bunch. I like it so much, I bought two of them. You never know when you'll need a spare... 15) Meade 32 mm Super Wide Angle Eyepiece (Brief Impression) A large 2" only eyepiece ($230) that's sometimes used as a "poor man's" Panoptic 35. It has a generous 67 degree FOV, and offers a 34% or so increase in field size over a conventional 50 degree, 32 mm Plossl. The 32 mm is more well-behaved at the edges than the 40 mm SWA (reviewed elsewhere.) It's useful as a low-power "finder" eyepiece for those of you with long-focus telescopes. Recommended, but check out the 35 mm Panoptic before making any final decisions. 16) Orion 17 mm Sirius Plossl Excellent value ($50) in a medium-cost eyepiece. Gives up very little to premium eyepieces like the TeleVue or the Meade Series 4000 Plossls in its focal range. The quality of construction, however, is closer to the Meade 3000 series (nothing to be ashamed of, there.) 17) Cheap Taiwanese Equatorial Mount ($250-$350 from various sources)
I have given unfavorable reviews to this mount in at least two other places on this website. Now, I've gone out and bought one of them. Go figure. In my defense, I should point out that it is becoming increasingly difficult NOT to own one of these mounts. They're everywhere. In fact, I bought mine from someone who has three of them. I see variants of this no-name mount from places like Starsplitter (their 4.5" and 6" Newtonians), Rex's, and International Optics. Apogee sells two reflectors on these mounts. Finally, Orion's Sky View Deluxe mount is the same unit with gold- colored legs. Many of the motors I've seen for this mount are pretty bad, inducing unacceptable vibrations. The Orion Accu Track motors are pretty good, though. Also, the polar alignment scale and the setting circles lie like a rug. At least there's an align- ment scope. Overall, these are OK mounts that will comfortably hold about 10-11 lbs. I think that they would hold a short and somewhat heavy tube like a TV85 well. There appears to be some play in the equatorial head, and the aluminum legs do a great job of transmitting vibrations right up to your optical tube. The mount is not nearly as good as a Super/Great Polaris, but if you're on a budget, or need a cheap spare mount for casual use, it's not a bad choice. End Various Eyepiece Review, Page 2 Return to Home Page