Bruce's Binocular Astromomy home page (click here to skip to optical repair links)
A Wonderful Porro Prism Astro Binocular.......An appropriate pair of binoculars can be one of the most fun, and most affordable ways to enjoy astronomy! A pair of binoculars like the 10x50's above can be your best introduction to astronomy, and need never be left at home due to lack of space, or lack to energy to pack around a telescope and tripod. The super-wide but sharp field of view on these Swift Kestrels (about 70 degrees apparent field) lead to a wonderful Nagler-like spacewalk type of viewing pleasure! In my experience, 10x50s are definitely the best all-around choice for a hand-holdable astronomy binocular, and standard, old-fashioned porro prisms like the Kestrels have several advantages for astronomy,such as their inherently better light transmission and better 3-D effect......When you use binoculars of any type, be aware that if you are a person who normally uses contact lenses or glasses, it's usually best to wear proper contact lenses or glasses if you have blurred vision while using binoculars.....Most modern binoculars have been designed with enough eye relief to allow you to wear your glasses with minimal loss of field of view..Be aware that binoculars do not correct for astigmatism, for one example.......In the picture above, the amber filters mounted on the objective lenses are an aftermarket item, and serve to keep the optics clean, and really cut thru the haze and smoke during daylight conditions. At night, such filters will keep the dew from forming on your main optics. They are sold by Butler Creek scope caps in a number of different sizes, and a good place to purchase them is through Cabela's outfitters.--- My current 10x50 is by Pentax; it is a somewhat rare (and now discontinued) model named the PIF 10x50.. If you can find one, get it! It has a 65 degree apparent field, rubber armored, full multi-coatings, waterproof, very stoutly built--- but mostly it has an incredibly flat field with pinpoint images that you just gotta love for astronomy (it has aspherical lens elements in the eyepieces). And its large size and heavy weight make it much easier to hand-hold steadily.
Astro Binocular Comparison reviews: Click to reach an extensive page comparing the super-expensive Zeiss 56 mm "Night Owls" to several other top-end binoculars! March 2013. I have added a major new section about smaller binoculars.
(see image below) I should give roof prism binoculars a fair shake, so shown below is an excellent, medium-priced roof prism by Brunton with excellent astronomy specs. 15 x magnification, 51 mm objective, and the best full multi-coatings and phase corrected silvered prisms. I have retrofitted a couple improvements for astronomy-- the winged side-shields on the eyepieces are superb for letting your night adapted eyes stay that way by blocking out the errant glare of passing headlights, distant street lights and porch lights. The white lens caps are far better in the dark and cold conditions we astronomers favor--- if you drop a cap, they are far easier to find than the usual black ones! Click here for more on the Brunton 15x51.
In the picture below are a variety of porro-prism binoculars from 24mm to 70mm, and from 8x to 15X. Generally, there are two piles. In the pile on the left, on top is an Orion 14x70, next down a Swift 15x60 Vanguard model, followed by the Swift Kestrel 10x50 as in the picture at page top. On bottom is a little Celestron 8x24 reverse porro prism unit. Finally, on the right side, the really big black beast is a massive Nikon 10x70, definitely the premium optic of the grouping. Any of these can increase your appreciation of the night sky, even the 8x24 can pop out summer Messier objects from a dark sky place like OSP or even Larch Mountain in the Gorge.
Binoculars on a tripod or monopod: mounting your binoculars may seem stupid-- didn't you buy binoculars to hand-hold them and escape the hassles of setting up telescope tripods? However, you will be amazed at how much more performance you can eke out of your binoculars by use of a tripod. And a paradoxical truth is that if you've got small, lightweight binoculars, especially ones that are 10 power or more, you'll find them quite difficult to hold steady without tripod-mounting! Thus, when seaching for astro binoculars, be sure to buy a pair that includes a standard photo tripod adapter, and you'll be able to mount your binoculars on a solid support when you desire to really maximize on the considerable performance that a good pair of 10x50s can offer. (the tripod adapter screws into the gold dot on the center post of the above bincoulars). Note: there also exist "center post clamps," which are more difficult to find, but very solid and effective for porro prism binoculars with center posts that are not too thick......And for roof prism binoculars, you can buy sa trap-like affair named the "Grippit" that stretch over the top of your roof prism binos and fastens them to a rigid bottom piece that has a standard tripod hole in it..... In the picture at page top, the amber filters mounted on the objective lenses of these are an aftermarket item, and serve to keep the optics clean, and really cut thru the haze and smoke during daylight conditions. At night, such filters will keep the dew from forming on your main optics. They are sold by Butler Creek scope caps in a number of different sizes, and a good place to purchase them is through Cabela's outfitters.
The Importance of Trying Before You Buy! There is no one "right" optical design, no one "right" ergonomic design; no one "right" prescription of any kind for a binocular that will be best for YOU, the individual user.
This was brought home to me recently when I visited Cabelas new store in Lacey, WA. Cabelas has a long-time history of being a major supplier of all sorts of binoculars and spotting scopes, including the ultra-premium brands that cost upwards of $1,000 each. My goal at Cabelas was to feast my eyes on the new and much-touted Zeiss Fluorite roof prism binoculars. ZEISS! Arguably the world's best brand, and in business longer than any other maker (since about 1856). For $1,600, how could I be anything but totally Wowed? The salespeople at Cabelas are very cooperative and freely let me try several of the top brands, including Zeiss, Swarovski, Nikon. The store has a superb indoor arena for viewing, where one can look out at their wildlife Mountain, which is around 100 yards away and well-lit, covered with beautifully-done specimens of big-game from all over North America. But I was soon crushed, I could not believe it. The Zeiss fluorites were a big disappointment; I really disliked their focusing mechanism, largely because it is so stiff; secondly, in side by side comparison with an old pair of Carl Zeiss Jena porro prism binoculars that I had brought in, I definitely liked the old porros' color rendition better than that of the new Zeiss! Among the binoculars on hand at Cabelas, my favorite for a compact all-arounder was the Swarovski 8x30 (not, no the newer, much-touted 8x32 EL). TRY BEFORE YOU BUY, and this holds especially true if your search is for an expensive, high-end binocular to last your lifetime. Here is a final example to drive home this point a little more--- the Leica ultra-premium roof prisms have for years been my favorites on many counts, and I would love to own a pair of the Leica 10x50s in particular--- but I continue to be stymied, because each time through the years that I have tested a pair of Leica roof prisms, they all have what to me is a major design flaw--- there is not enough focus travel for the binocular to reach infinity focus if I try to view without my glasses! (and this is how I prefer to view for astronomy). On the other hand, all the Swarovskis I have tested over the years easily reach focus with plenty to spare--- but the ONLY way to know this is to have actually held and tested the binocular! TRY BEFORE YOU BUY.
MISSING JIM ROSE. If you are in the upper Willamette Valley, or the Vancouver area, you used to be able to take your gear in person to Jim Rose at Jim's Optical Service in Vancouver, Washington.... An ex-Navy opticsman, Jim got his first telescope when he was 13, and after nearly 40 years in the field of optical repair, he could do most anything, including helping you refurbish an old scope by machining needed parts in his own shop. Jim passed away in mid-2009 and rests at peace in Vancouver, survived by his wife. All of us in the local area will sure miss his friendly services.