Product Review: Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 Pocket Binocular.

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25: a noble gesture from a market-leading optics firm.

October 1 2019

Preamble;

Review A

Review B

 Review C(verified purchaser):

Although I read glowing reports for these pocket Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 light carry binoculars, my previous 4 month ownership of the Swaro CL 8X25 pockets had tempered my expectations. However, I found these small glassing gems to perform optically and ergonomically within 95% of the venerable and well built CL’s (at 1\3 the price)! They, just as the CL, have handling and comfort limitations compared to compact or full size binoculars. But for quick trip non-intrusive viewing, ease of portability and very accurate powered views, these little pockets are hard to beat. Overall, they possess very nice ergonomics, have natural color presentation, crystalline resolution that is real sharp and bright, with very good contrast views. Their FOV (field of view), whose sweet spot extends to within 10% of their wide 357ft limit, has a comfortable and stereoptic DOF (depth of field) . Hinge tensions are perfect, and the focuser is fast, going from close focus (mine’s about 5ft) CW to infinity in just 1.25 turns. Eye cup adjustments lock fully in (for eye glass wearers) and fully out (non-eye glass wearers). My vision is 20\15 and with the very comfortable eye cups fully extended and resting on my brow, I can align the small EP (exit pupil=3.1) with my pupils, gaining a full unobstructed sigh picture! With its ED glass, CA (chromatic aberrations) is well controlled and I find day light\low light viewing to be bright, natural and enjoyable! Diopter is set on the front dial (for the right barrel) and has enough resistance to stay put. Made in Japan for Zeiss, they offer a lot of features and performance at a great value point. These will make great travel companions and will be back-ups for my full sized field excursion instruments!

Review D(verified purchaser):

I also read about these on an astronomy forum, where I got the “use” info below, but not the specs.
Buy these now. A best buy. Here’s why:
1. Zeiss is a world class optics company. So is Swarovski.
Compare this Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 to the world-class Swarovski 8×25 at $819 on Amazon (list price is even higher). This will show you
a) specs are same: field of view (6.8˚),
brightness (14.1 vs 14.2),
weight (11 vs 12 oz),
eye relief (16 vs 17mm), and
size in inches
b) specs favor Swaro: water resistant to 4 meters (vs 1 meter for Zeiss)
c) specs favor Zeiss: close focus 6.2ft (vs 14.2 for Swaro),
operating temperature -20 to 144˚ (vs -13 to 131 for Swaro)
d) use favors Swaro: view is said to be more comfortable to look at, ergonomically
focus has lighter touch, for those who like that
e) use favors Zeiss: view is more crisp, contrasty (Swaro view is said to be softer, more milky)
focus has firmer touch, for those who like that
f) price favors Zeiss: $293 (vs $819 for Swaro)2. Compare them to other Zeiss binos from the SAME series – Zeiss Terra ED.
– 8×25, 10×25 are made in Japan
– 8×25, 10×25 are getting great reviews, for small binos
– all larger Terra ED models are made in China
– all larger models are getting panned for poor optics and build quality
I think everybody is well aware that China optics and build quality are inferior (so far) to those from the US, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Austria, etc.So this 8×25 model is unusual. Superior optics and build are normal for Zeiss, except for their Chinese built Terra ED line.
Luckily, the 8×25 model is made in Japan with Zeiss design. This results in typical world class Zeiss quality.What is hard to understand is how Zeiss makes a $293 optic that arguably outperforms an $819 Swarovski.For bino newbies looking at 10×25, remember: the 10×25 will have a smaller exit pupil, so your views may black out more. Also, a 10x is way harder to hold steady and actually see than an 8x. So, even though you think you want 10x, you probably really want 8×25. With the 8×25, you’ll actually see and enjoy the view more.………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

What you get:

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 pocket binocular kit.

The Zeiss Terra pocket arrived double-boxed. After opening the outer packaging, the binocular kit was housed inside a very nicely presented box with a very fetching design which folds open to reveal the contents. Unlike other products I’ve received in the past, the Zeiss box has depicted on the inside, a colourful alpine scene with majestic mountain peaks soaring high above a beautiful river valley. Perhaps the team at Zeiss intended the user to explore such landscapes? Whatever the reasoning behind it, it was certainly a pleasant touch.

With Zeiss, even the packaging is premium.

Unlike customers who bought the Zeiss pocket binocular when it was first launched just a few years ago, I was relieved to see that the instrument was housed inside a small clamshell case with a magnetic latch carrying the blue & white Zeiss logo.The box also contained a lanyard, operating instructions and a lens cleaning cloth. I was surprised that the binocular itself came neither with eyepiece or objective lens caps, but I suppose they are not really necessary, as the case very effectively protects the instrument from dust and moisture.

The box has the serial number on the side, which is needed to register the product on the Zeiss sports optics website.  On another side of the box, the detailed specifications of both the 8 x 25 and 10 x 25 models are presented; another nice touch.

The binocular was housed inside the clamshell and was pristine, with no dust on the lenses, or gunk on the interior of the barrels. From the moment I prized the neatly folded instrument from its case, I was impressed. The frame is composed of a fibre-glass like polymer, with a fetching black, grey and blue livery. The sides of the binocular have a rubberised exterior making it easy to grip well while in use. The double-hinges were rigid and hold their positions solidly once the correct inter-pupillary distance is chosen for your eyes. The optics are hermetically sealed, nitrogen purged and had immaculately finished anti-reflection coatings on both the ocular and objective lenses. They are also treated with a Zeiss’ proprietary hydrophobic coating that encourages any moisture and grime that gathers on the lenses to fall off, rather than accumulating on the surfaces. The instrument is guaranteed to operate flawlessly over a very impressive temperature range: -20C to +63C, so covering almost any environment it is likely to find itself in.

The binocular is water resistant, but to what degree remained a bit of a mystery owing to the rather odd way in which Zeiss chose to present it: 100mbar.

You what mate?

Thankfully, some physics knowledge helps to clarify the reference to water pressure.

P = Rho x g x h, where P is the water pressure, Rho is the density of water, g is the acceleration due to gravity and h is the depth in metres. Rearranging to find h gives;

h = P/ (g x Rho) = 10^4/ (10 x 10^3) = 1m

Knowledge is power lol!

So, not as waterproof as a Swarovski pocket binocular(I think it’s 4m) but adequate for most purposes.

Fully folded down, the Zeiss Terra pocket is about 70mm wide and 110mm long. The oversized barrels make the Zeiss a wee bit taller when placed on its side in comparison to a classic pocket instrument, like my lovely little Opticron Aspheric LE;

The Zeiss Terra Pocket(right) is a little wider and taller than the more conventional Opticron Aspheric(left).

The Terra weighs in at 310g, so about 40 grams lighter than the Swarovski-made counterpart. Lighter isn’t necessarily better however, as some individuals find holding such light glasses problematical. But once unfolded, the significantly wider barrels more than make up for its low mass, as I shall explain more fully a little later in the review.

The eyecups look a bit suspect, but once you begin rotating them, they work really well. They have no indents but do have ample friction. There are only two positions; fully retracted or fully extended. You know you’ve reached either situation by hearing their clicking into place. They are very solid and hold their positions superbly. Eye relief is 16mm and I was able to enjoy the full field with eye glasses on or without. Placing your eye on the eyecups is very comfortable, with their soft, rubberised overcoat and the large field lenses makes for very easy centring of your eye sockets along the line of sight of the optical train.

The dioptre(+/- 3) setting lies at the other end of the bridge(near the objectives), which initially presented some problems for me, as it is rather stiff and difficult to get going, but once you’re done you’re done! The focusing wheel is centrally located and is reassuringly large and easy to grip, even with gloves on. It moves very well, with the perfect amount of tension. Motions run smoothly, with little in the way of play or backlash when rotated either clockwise or anti-clockwise. The focuser requires one and a half full rotations to go from one end of its focus travel to another.

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 has a large, centrally placed focuser. The right-eye dioptre ring is located at the other end of the instrument, near the objective lenses.

The objective lenses are very deeply recessed, more so than on many other pocket binoculars I’ve used. This affords the 25mm objective lenses greater protection against aeolian-borne dust and also serves as a first-line defence against glare. Cool!

As the other reviewers showcased earlier, the Zeiss Terra pocket binoculars are manufactured in Japan, with the larger models originating in China under Zeiss supervision. You can see that quite clearly by examining the under belly of the instrument:

The underside of the binocular reveals its country of manufacture: Japan.

That said, and contrary to what the other reviewers have asserted, I don’t fully subscribe to the notion that all Chinese-made binoculars are inferior to those produced in Europe or Japan, as I shall elaborate on later.

All in all, it’s pretty obvious that a great deal of sound engineering was put into these pint-sized field glasses.

Handling: The Zeiss pocket is supremely comfortable to use, the slightly larger frame fitting comfortably in my hands. Indeed, with its wide field of view and thicker barrels, it feels like you’re peering through a larger instrument. The big eye lenses make it easy to get the right eye placement with none of the blackouts I’ve experienced on a number of other pocket binoculars. Its light weight means that you can carry it round your neck for hours on end with no neck strain. Its easy to get both hands resting on the central bridge, using my little finger to engage with the focus wheel.

Optical Assessment:

Straight out of its case, the Zeiss Terra impressed. Looking at some tree trunks just beyond my back garden fence reaveled a wealth of high contrast detail. I was immediately taken aback with the expansive field of view; not only was it wide, but the image remained tack sharp across nearly all of the field. Images snapped to a very sharp focus and I experienced no trouble focusing from just a few yards away all the way out to some trees located hundreds of yards away. Glare suppression looked excellent, even when pointed at some backlit scenes strongly bathed in sunlight. It was immediately clear to me that I was looking through a very high quality optical instrument.

As I stated in earlier blogs, I don’t really consider the inclusion of low dispersion (ED) glass as necessary in a small binocular like this, but it’s a nice feature when presented as part of a larger, properly designed system. After all, and as several other reviewers pointed out, the Zeiss seemed quite comparable to arguably the most sought-after pocket binocular on the market; the venerable Swarovski CL pocket binocular. But what is not widely communicated is that the latter achieves all its optical excellence without using ED glass. That should send a powerful message to the gayponaut propagandists. No, its all about using great glass, great coatings and solid mechanical engineering. Alas, I was not able to compare this pocket binocular with the Swarovski, but the fact that the little Zeiss was often mentioned in the same company as it speaks volumes about its optical quality.

Further daylight tests showed that off-axis aberrations were very well controlled. Even at the edge of the field pin cushion distortion and field curvature were minimal. Looking straight up at a denuded tree branch against an overcast sky showed no colour fringing on axis but as the image was moved off axis, some slight secondary spectrum was noted. Overall, I was very impressed at the Zeiss’ optical quality; it really does exactly what it says on the tin!

A niggly moment: While the little Zeiss pocket binocular fits perfectly inside its small, clamshell case without the supplied neck strap attached, I found that the addition of the strap made it very difficult to get a snug fit. Wrapping the neck strap around the central bridge simply didn’t allow the case to close properly(the magnetic latch never stuck), but after several attempts experimenting with different approaches, I finally hit on a way to get the binocular with its strap on to fit the case. The trick involves wrapping the strap tightly around the ocular lenses.The latch sticks.  Problem solved!

More discriminating optical tests:

Flare & Glare assessment:

Even if the glass used in binoculars were mined from the asteroid belt, it counts for nothing if it can’t control light leaks. My initial daylight tests showed that glare and internal reflections were very well controlled in the little Zeiss binocular, but they can’t tell the whole story. So, I set up my iphone torch at its brightest setting in my living room and examined the focused images through  the Zeiss Terra, comparing its results with my Opticron Aspheric(a nice little performer) as well as my control binocular; the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah, which has excellent control of stray light.

The results were very interesting. The Zeiss faired better than the Opticron, but not by much. However, it was not as good as the Savannah, which exhibits exceptional control of internal reflections even though it collects far more light than any pocket binocular.

Further testing of the binoculars on a bright street light revealed some additional information. Internal reflections were well suppressed in both the Zeiss and Opticron binoculars, but the Zeiss showed more prominent diffraction spikes. The Savannah control binocular, in comparison, proved superior to both pocket binoculars. It shows very little flaring and internal reflections and much better control of diffraction spikes.

And therein lies an instructive lesson. The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 is fabricated in China yet shows exceptional control of glare and internal reflections. So, it’s not so much where a binocular is built that counts so much as how it is constructed.

An exceptional, Chinese-made binocular; the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah wide angle 143m@1000m.

It is all the more remarkable, since the Savannah can be purchased for half the price of the diminutive Zeiss!

All in all, these tests showed that the Zeiss binocular is very well protected against stray light, glare and internal reflections and this goes a long way to explaining why the views through it are so compelling.

Collimation and Field of View Tests:

I checked the collimation of the barrels on the Zeiss by placing the instrument on a tall fence and aiming at a rooftop, checking that both the horizontal and vertical fields correlated with each other. They matched up very well.

Field of view is best assessed by turning the binocular on the stars. Accordingly, I aimed the Zeiss Terra at the two stars at the end of the handle of the Ploughshare, now low in the northern sky. The Zeiss was able to image both Mizar and Alkaid in the same field with a little bit to spare. These stars are separated by an angular distance of 6 degrees 40′ (or 6.66 degrees). This result was consistent with the specifications on the inside of the box; 6.8 angular degrees.

Further Observations:

Comparing the Opticron Aspheric to the Zeiss Terra in daylight, showed that both instruments were about equally matched in terms of sharpness( the aspherical oculars on the Opticron certainly help in this regard), but I could discern that the image was that little bit brighter in the Zeiss. Better coatings in the Zeiss binocular throughout the optical train give it the edge in this regard. Field of view was also much more expansive in the Zeiss( the Opticron has a true field of 5.2 degrees in comparison). Colours were also that little bit more vivid in the Zeiss pocket binocular, caused perhaps by its better contrast and superior control of chromatic aberration.

Close focus is very good. I measured the Zeiss Terra to have a minimum close focus distance of 1.4 metres, so this should be a great little instrument for use as a long distance microscope, to spy out insects, fungi, flowers, rocks and the endlessly fascinating complexities of tree trunks.

The eye lenses on the Zeiss Terra pocket binocular measure 18mm in diameter, the same as the Swarovski CL pocket. But they are still small in comparison to a larger format binocular like my 8 x 42.

But while the field of view is quite immersive in the Zeiss Terra, it lacks the majesty factor of a larger binocular, such as my Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah, with its whopping 8.2 degree true field and better eye relief. Larger binoculars are simply easier to engage with your eye sockets and are thus more comfortable to use than any pocket binocular on the market.

Performance under low light conditions easily show the limitations of the small objectives on the Zeiss Terra. At dusk, the 8 x 42 was vastly superior to the Zeiss, showing much brighter images, as expected. So, as good as the Zeiss pocket binocular is, it can’t defy the laws of physics.

A Walk by the River Bank

River Endrick, near my home.

One of the best reasons to own and use a pocket binocular, is that it encourages you to go outside and explore the landscape. They’re so light weight and handy that anyone can carry one. Sometimes I use the Opticron and at other times I like using the Zeiss. Their sharp, high-contrast optics deliver wonderful images of the Creation. For me, nature is life affirming; a profound source of revelation and illumination. Like a great Cathedral, it fills me with awe and wonder. The sound of the wind whistling through the trees, the babbling brook and the noisy chirps of small tree birds form part of a symphony paying homage to the One who fashioned it all. For some, the Darwinian, materialist lie has dulled or even extinguished the sense of wonder that is innately endowed to every child. Dead to the world, believing themselves to be highly evolved animals, they pose no meaningful questions and can give no meaningful answers to life’s biggest conundrums. As you think, so you are.

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

For me, being able to explore the wet and wild places with tiny optical aids is a source of unending joy. On sunny afternoons or early in the morning, I sometimes take myself off for a walk along the banks of the River Endrick which meanders its way through the beautiful valley in which I live. Stretches of shallow, fast-flowing water predominate but are also complemented by deeper pool and riffle sequences; favourite haunts of  Brown Trout, Perch and other course fish. Lanky Herons frequent these waters in search of fresh prey.  Bracken flourishes all along the river, and my pocket binocular allows me to study their shape and form in great detail. As summer gives way to autumn, their bright lorne hues transform into various shades of brown and tan. Spiders weave elaborate but deadly webs of silk with their spinnerets that sparkle and glisten in the morning sunlight, creating a wondrous decoration that I can experience up-close and personal with my long range microscope.

Towering trees soar into a blue sky by the banks of the Endrick.

Many species of tree grace the banks of the river; Ash, Silver Birch, Sycamore, Horse Chestnut and even the odd Oak. Thriving from frequent rain showers, their trunks are covered in lichens, moss and algae that reveal a wealth of intricate structure and a riot of colour that changes in accordance with the varying altitude of the Sun as it wheels across the sky. I especially delight in observing the colour of autumn leaves in bright sunlight, the ruby reds of anthocyanins and the yellow-orange hues of carotenoids. Every now and then, I watch as the fast-flowing water, dappling in weak autumn sunshine, ferries off fallen leaves, their destinies unknown. My pocket binocular shows me that every tree trunk is unique. Each tells its own story, visual scars of its past life.

On some stretches of the river bank, I can still find some late-flowering wild plants that delight the eyes with colour in unexpected ways. And as autumn continues its march towards winter, the thick brambles begin to yield their succulent fruit. What could me more pleasing and more natural than to feast on their nutritious berries?

An expected riot of autumn flowers observed along the river bank.

At some places along the river bank, there are expansive rocky stretches. And yet every stone you un-turn reveals even more of God’s Creation. A scurrying earwig, a wondrously armoured wood louse or a frolicking spider.The pocket binocular brings everything into stunning clarity. And though at first glance, each stone looks more or less the same, my little pocket spyglass shows that they too are all unique. Every crevice, every colourful grain is one of a kind.

A rocky stretch along the river bank.

This tiny corner of the world is ripe for exploration, with every day that passes presenting new adventures, new wonders to delight the eye. But so is yours!

Bird Watching with the Zeiss Terra Pocket Binocular:

Can good pocket binoculars be suitable for birdwatching?

Lots of birding websites don’t recommend using pocket binoculars for bird watching, citing their small fields of view and reduced comfort compared with larger binoculars as the most common reasons. Having used these small binoculars for a while now, I must say  that I respectfully disagree. The Opticron Aspheric has served as a good birding binocular for me, especially for quick looks at birds that visit our back garden table and the crows that nest in the conifer trees in the common ground beyond our back yard fence. Recently, a group of five magpies have taken up residence in the Rowan tree in our back yard. Each evening as darkness falls, they hunker down in the tree and don’t seem to be fazed by us turning on an outside light or noisy disturbances when it’s time to put the garbage out. During the day though, they are often seen chackering away at each other loudly(magpies don’t actually sing) as if to resolve some dispute among themselves. Further afield, there is a small pond just a few hundred yards away in the grounds of Culcreuch Castle, which attract quite a few varieties of water bird; swans, duck, water hens, heron and even the odd cormorant. Once I learned to use them properly, small binoculars like these have never presented much in the way of a problem for me.  And since the Zeiss Terra pockets have a nice wide field of 6.8 degrees, they have proven to be better suited than the Opticron in this regard because you can better track the motions of birds with a wider true field.

On the Zeiss Sports Optics website, under ‘usage’, they seem to be saying that the Terra pockets are less suitable for birding, but I wonder if this is merely a clever ploy to get folk to buy into their larger(and more expensive) models. If so, they’re lost on me. With their excellent optics and generous field of view right to the edge, they can and do serve as good birding glasses. Of course, you can only form your own opinions by actual field experience but you may discover that the little Terra is all you really need! Seen in this light, acquiring a Zeiss Terra pocket binocular can actually serve as a cost-saving measure that stops you haemorrhaging your hard-earned cash on ever bigger and more expensive models.

How About Astronomy?

A small binocular like this is not the best for exploring the night sky since its small objective lenses cannot gather enough light to really wow the observer. However, the Terra’s excellent performance both at the centre of the field and extending nearly all the way to the edges, as well as its wonderful contrast make star gazing a pleasant experience. Out here in the sticks, the sky is quite dark and rewarding, even when observed with such a small instrument. Its field of view is large enough to enjoy some of the showpieces of the sky like the Pleiades, the Hyades, and larger asterisms such as Melotte 20 in Perseus, which can be taken in with its generous field of view. Stars remain very tightly focused and pin sharp across the field. Later in the season, I look forward to exploring the winter constellation of Orion the Hunter, to seek out its magnificent nebula in his Sword Handle, as well as the many delightful clusters of stars that are framed within its borders.

On another autumnal evening, I was able to pick up the three Messier open clusters in Auriga, M34, the Messier galaxies, M81 and M82, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Double Cluster in Perseus, wide double stars like Mizar & Alcor and the Coathanger asterism in Vulpecula. Running the binocular through Cygnus and Cassiopeia will also reward dark-adapted eyes with innumerable faint stars, like fairy dust on black velvet. One delightful little project involves exploring the lovely colours of bright stars such as blue-white Vega and Sirius, creamy white Capella, brilliant white Rigel, orange Arcturus and fiery red Betelgeuse and Aldebaran.

Following the phases of the Moon can also be a rewarding and worthwhile pursuit, as the Terra’s above average glare and internal reflection control will ensure that you get nice crisp, contrasty images. Lunar eclipses can also be enjoyed. You might also like to try your hand at observing the beautiful light shows presented by clouds passing near the Moon on blustery evenings. The excellent contrast of the Terra will also allow you to see stars around the Moon which can be very arresting to observe. Capturing the bright Moon as it rises over man-made buildings will also delight the eye. Above all else, don’t let its small aperture deter you from exploring God’s wonderful creation, which fills the Universe with hope and light.

Final thoughts:

Terra: for exploring the Earth and beyond.

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 pocket binocular is a fine, high-quality optical instrument that is easy to use and transport. If taken care of, it will give you years of enjoyment where ever you wish to take it. As I said from the outset of this blog, I believe Zeiss did something very noble in bringing this little binocular to market at the price point they set. To be honest, and as others have quipped, they could well have stuck a ‘Victory’ label on it and no one would be any the wiser. Optically, Zeiss engineers have cut no corners to deliver an ergonomic, durable and optically sound instrument that will delight anyone who looks through it. I suspect that the Zeiss Terra pocket might be one of their best-selling products. It is even available on finance and buy-now-pay later schemes here in the UK, although I would strongly advise would-be buyers to save up and pay the price in full rather than incurring more debt, where you ultimately pay more. The Zeiss is expensive as small binoculars go, but I feel that it’s worth every penny, as for me at least, it has already given me countless hours of wonderful experiences. In the world of high-quality pocket binoculars, the Terra certainly stands out in a crowd. Highly recommended!

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Neil English is the author of a large medley of essays(650pages), Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, which showcases the extraordinary lives of amateur and professional astronomers over four centuries of time.

Post Scriptum:

1. The Zeiss Terra has a two year warranty, which is enacted once you register the product on the Zeiss website. Cross-checking is thorough, requiring the serial number, and the name & address of the place of purchase. After checking these details, you receive a confirmatory email from the Zeiss Sports Optics team, welcoming you to the world of Zeiss.

2. The little foldable Zeiss Terra is very suitable for those adults with unusually small inter pupillary distances (closely spaced eyes) and children.

3. The overall light transmission of the Zeiss Terra ED is 88 per cent. Source here. This is exactly the same as the Swarovski CL Pocket(non-ED just in case Pepperidge farm forgets, ken ) binocular. Source here. Zeiss Victory Pocket binocular light transmission is 91%. Source here.

4. The family of magpies came back to the Rowan tree in my garden, as they always do, just before sunset. Here is a picture of four ( I think!) individuals settled in the tree branches at 20.09pm local time on the evening of October 6 2019.

Wee magpies hunkering down for the night in my Rowan tree.

5. After a week of abysmal weather, with endless cloud and rain, I finally managed to test the little Zeiss Terra pocket binocular on a very bright gibbous Moon at 10:25 pm local time on the evening of October 10 2019, when it was within an hour of meridian passage. At the centre of the field, it delivered a beautiful, clean and razor sharp image with no false colour. The background sky was good and dark with little in the way of diffused light. Internal reflections were pretty much non-existent with the Moon in the centre of the field. Only when it was placed just outside the field did I detect some minor flaring. Moving the Moon to the edge of the field threw up some slight lateral colour, bluish at its southern edge, and green-yellow at its northern edge. These results were entirely consistent with my flashlight testing. This will be a useful Moon-gazing glass!

6. May 11 2020: This afternoon I received a phone call from the Zeiss team clarifying that the Terra pocket binoculars have indeed moved production to China, but they also reassured me that the quality of the product is identical to the original Japanese-made instrument, as is the packaging, accessories and two-year warranty. Not all employees were aware of this until recently and this was the root source of the recent confusion.

Three Good Binoculars that Won’t Break the Bank.

Three binoculars offering very good performance for a modest price.

April 14 2020

As my regular readers will know, I’ve spent quite a lot of time in recent years seeing what’s what in the binocular market. But just like the telescope market, all is not what it seems. You don’t always get what you pay for and you can find genuine bargains that offer much better bang for buck than those usually presented on internet forums frequented by amateur astronomers, birders and the like. The trouble with these forums is that they usually become hijacked by folk who insist on using and promoting premium products that are usually way beyond the price range of most enthusiasts and many good products simply fall below the radar and so never see the light of day. In this blog, I’ll be presenting three binoculars from the pocket, compact and mid-size aperture range that offer exceptional value for money, having been thoroughly tested(not the usual ‘mickey mouse testing’ seen on the internet) by yours truly in a variety of field conditions.

I’m writing this fully in the knowledge that a lot of folk are hurting financially at the moment, owing to the international crisis precipitated by the corona virus. Millions of people’s mobility has been severely restricted and so there may be quite a few individuals out there who may be looking for cost-effective products that will make life in lock-down that little bit more palatable. What better way than a good binocular to bring the world closer and to examine the beauty of the creation from the vantage of a garden, rooftop or balcony?

All of the binoculars featured in this blog are well made, coupling very good mechanics with excellent optics, all have price tags under £150(UK) and all come with a ten-year guarantee so that if you’re not fully satisfied with the product you can always return it in due course. These instruments include:

The Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25 pocket binocular

The Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30

The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42

 

The Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25:

The Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25 has an rugged aluminium body with dual hinge design that allows it to be folded up into a very small size so that it fits inside a pocket.

Are you looking for a well-made pocket glass that you can take anywhere to deliver very sharp, high-contrast images of your environment? The Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25 may be all the binocular you might need. Opticron is a well established British firm with a long history of delivering high quality optical products to their customers. The unit has fully multi-coated optics, high-reflectivity silver coated, phase corrected BAK-4 prisms to maximise light transmission. My glare tests using a very intense artificial light source shows to show up internal reflections and unwanted glare revealed that not one, but two of these instruments produced very satisfactory suppression of stray light. This is a good indicator of high contrast optics even in difficult lighting situations, such as glassing artificial light sources at night and observing heavily back-lit daylight scenes. The unit shown above was purchased for my wife and was acquired before the newer model was brought to market. The only difference between the newer and older models is that the former are fully water- and fog-proof, purged internally with inert, dry nitrogen gas.

The Opticron Aspheric LE folds out to suit most anyone’s inter-pupillary distance( IPD) and has well made twist up eye cups.

Tipping the scales at about 290g, the little Opticron pocket glass has good quality, twist-up eye cups that hold their position well and possess generous, 16mm eye relief, making them well suited both for eye-glass wearers and non-eye glass users alike. The Opticron also features a built-in lanyard for easy transport in the field so there’s no need to fit a strap. Focusing is smooth and precise, and the newer unit has slightly better rubber armouring for comfortable handling in the field. Close focus is also exceptional on these units. I measured one at 1.4 metres!

The Opticron Aspheric LE  8 x 25 allows you to get to work or play quickly.

Optically, these little Opticrons serve up very sharp, high contrast images and their aspherical ocular lenses ensure that the image does not degrade appreciably even when subject is imaged at the edge of the field. The only slight downside with these units is their relatively small field of view; just 92 metres at 1000m(~5.2 angular degrees),  but the fine optics more than makes up for this small field!

The newer model comes with a beautiful neoprene carry case that perfectly fits the binoculars.

The well-made logoed carry case fits the pocket binocular exceptionally well for easy transport and storage.

Retailing for £129(UK), these pocket glasses will provide years of hassle-free entertainment that is sure to delight anyone who uses them! I’ve often employed them for limited astronomical applications too, where they have proven their worth in delivering razor sharp and glare free images of the Moon, bright planets, and with an almost flat extended field, are well suited for glassing larger star fields and bright deep sky objects.

An elegant, ultra-portable pocket binocular.

 

The Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30:

The Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30 compact binocular.

The next binocular featured in this blog was a very pleasant surprise! I took a punt on the Nikon Prostaff 7s 8 x 30 out of sheer curiosity, since the vast majority of comments made by their owners were very positive indeed. And I can now say they weren’t wrong!

Weighing in at 415g, the Prostaff 7s 8 x 30 is very light weight for a binocular with these specifications. The optics are fully broadband multi-coated and the prisms are phase (and silver) coated for bright and sharp images. Being significantly larger than a pocket glass, they are easier to hold and easier to engage with owing to their larger exit pupil( 3.75mm). I was very surprised to learn that the Prostaff 7s has a higher light transmission than Nikon’s more expensive offering, the Monarch 8 x 30, as revealed in my more in-depth review I conducted on this binocular earlier this year. With a length of only 12cm, it is only one centimetre longer than the Opticron pocket glass keeping it very small and tidy!

The Nikon Prostaff 7s 8 x 30 has good quality twist -up and down eye cups that hold their position very well.

Despite being very light weight, it’s very easy to hold steady in my hands owing to its shorter bridge which exposes a larger area to wrap your hands around the barrels. The big focus wheel is buttery smooth and moves effortlessly with zero backlash or slack from close focus (just over 2 metres) to infinity in less than one revolution. The Prostaff 7S has well-made, twist-up eye cups that offers generous (15.4mm) eye relief to suit both eye glass wearers and those that don’t. The poly-carbonate body is overlaid by a thick rubber-like armour with exceptional grip. In addition, the instrument is fully water proof (1m depth for 10 minutes according to the user manual) and being filled with dry nitrogen gas, is also fog proof.

My tests show that the little 8 x 30 was superior to the Opticron in suppressing glare and internal reflections, which came as yet another pleasant surprise to me. Optically, this compact-sized binocular packs a powerful optical wallop. Having a true field of 114m @ 1000m (6.5 angular degrees), the image is very sharp and contrasty, and retains its sharpness almost to the very edge of the field. In addition, there is very little attenuation of light as one moves from the centre to the field stop, unlike many other models I have tested(sometimes costing many times more). This level of optical excellence is achieved by keeping the field of view on the small side compared with many other 8 x 30/32 units you are likely to encounter. I found this a very acceptable compromise though, as 6.5 degrees is still plenty good enough for most applications.

Although the Prostaff 7S units don’t employ ED glass, the chromatic aberration is, to all intents and purposes, non-existent, and delivers no appreciable reduction in performance over an equivalent unit employing ED glass. Like I said before, don’t fall for marketing hype. Most users won’t be able to tell the difference between a unit with ED glass elements and one without, provided that quality optical components are properly assembled in house.

The Prostaff 7s 8 x 30 compact binocular has an exceptionally smooth focus wheel for precision focusing in the field.

Having both larger objective lenses and exit pupils, the Nikon Prostaff 7s is noticeably superior to any pocket glass in low light conditions, where it serves up brighter images at dawn or dusk or on dull winter days. But its biggest performance difference over pocket glasses comes into play when turned on the night sky, where its greater light grasp pulls in significantly fainter stars, making deep sky observing more rewarding.

A fantastic performer for a great price: the Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30.

Together with a good rain guard and high quality padded neck strap featuring the Nikon logo, this 8 x 30 unit is likely to please the vast majority of users and will deliver flawless performance for many years. All in all, the Nikon Prostaff 7s 8 x 30 offers exceptional value for money in today’s market, combining great ergonomics with remarkable optical performance for its modest price tag (~£140 UK).

The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42:

The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 super-wide angle.

Now for a very special binocular. When I started out looking at the modern binocular market, I took the advice of a number of more experienced glassers who recommended I try a Barr & Stroud roof prism binocular. Now, several years on, I’m very glad I did. Every model I have tried for their range has been impressive. But one model in particular stood out from the crowd; the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42. Having owned and tested two samples of this product, I can say, hand on heart, that it’s got to be one of the best bargains your money can buy.

Built like a proverbial tank, it sports a whopping 143m@1000m true field; one of the widest on the market for a binocular with these specifications. But unlike a string of other models in this modest price class, you get an extraordinarily well corrected field with an enormous sweet spot that keeps the object well focused even near the edge of the field.  With a larger exit pupil of 5.4mm, the 8 x 42 is supremely comfortable to use, even by complete novices, since it is very easy to get good eye placement. The body is covered with a thick rubberised armouring, which provides excellent grip even in tricky conditions. Unlike most other roof binos in this price class, the Savannah has its dioptre ring located just ahead of the focus wheel, making it very easy to access should you wish to tweak the optics in the right barrel. On the downside, its location makes it that little bit easier to knock out of place while glassing in the field and so a little bit more care should be afforded to it when removing the instrument from its hard, clam shell case.

Everything about the Barr & Stroud exudes quality. The focuser is a joy to use and one of the best I have experienced in an 8 x 42. It is buttery smooth and moves effortlessly with absolutely no backlash or bumpiness in either direction, taking nearly two full revolutions from its closest focus (under two metres) to beyond infinity. The eye cups are of very high quality and twist up to give extremely comfortable eye relief. What’s more, they remain firmly in place even when significant pressure is applied to them. The instrument is fully waterproof(1.5m for three minutes) and is dry nitrogen purged to eliminate internal fogging when used in cold, damp conditions.

My glare and internal reflections testing showed that the Savannah has exceptional control of stray light and the result is that you get very punchy, high-contrast images. Indeed, the only binocular that has produced better results than the Barr & Stroud Savannah is my little Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20, but at a price fully three times the asking price of the former! It has noticeably superior control of diffraction spiking (tested on night light sources) compared with a Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 and the aforementioned Nikon Prostaff 8 x 30 and Opticron Aspheric LE.

The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42(right) has exceptional glare and internal reflection suppression that is only just bettered by the premium Leica Trinovid 8 x 20 costing three times more.

The first model I acquired was second-hand but developed a dioptre fault. But I received a brand new instrument from the parent company who own Barr & Stroud,Optical Vision Limited(OVL) and the rest, as they say, is history. The model features fully broadband multi-coatings on all optical surfaces and phase coated Schmidt-Pechan prisms to boost light transmission and image contrast. It ‘s extremely sharp, even when compared with premium models. In one series of tests I conducted in the summer of 2019, the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 yielded images that were only very slightly less sharp compared with an optically perfect Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42. I believe the vast majority of users will be delighted when they look through this instrument. Don’t let zealous binocular gayponauts coerce you into buying a model costing many times more before checking this unit out first!

It might be all the 8 x 42 you need!

The large well-made eyecups and buttery smooth focuser on the Barr & Stroud Savannah make for supremely comfortable viewing.

The 8 x 42 serves as one of the best all-round binoculars for a wide variety of glassing applications, whether it be bird-watching, hunting in low light and for casual stargazing. Its nearly flat, super-wide field will delight those who wish the cruise the Milky Way or  ogle large deep sky objects. The only downsides are its weight and slightly lower overall light transmission compared with premium models; at 820g the Savannah is not light by any means but I suppose that, in creating the highly impressive near-flat and super-wide field of view, it needs more optical components to execute this correctly and thus the trade-off is reduced portability and reduced overall light transmission. That said, unlike the two other binoculars discussed in this blog, the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 can easily be affixed to a tripod or monopod for ultra-stable viewing, should you require it.

The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42; a truly remarkable value in today’s market.

This impressive binocular is always a joy to hold in one’s hand and the images it serves up keeps you coming back to it again and again and again.  And while you can pick this model up for about £120, I would rank it as my personal favourite binocular. It’s just a supremely sweet instrument made by a company that once supplied optics to the British Navy during two world wars. And that counts for something!

Storing and Transporting the Binoculars

There is further good news when you purchase any of these binoculars. They all come with good quality carry cases. I have already highlighted the nicely designed yellow and black neoprene case fitting the newer Opticron Aspheric LE(illustrated earlier in this blog). The Nikon Prostaff 7s comes with a black padded case with the Nikon logo on the front and fits the binocular very well together with its strap wound tightly around the body. The Barr & Stroud Savannah has arguably the best quality case of the lot though. As you can see form the image below, the 8 x 42 comes with a hard clam shell case that can be zipped up to seal in the binocular and keep out dust and moisture – the destructive enemies of all optical instruments. As with all of my binoculars, I highly recommend placing a sachet of silica gel desiccant inside their cases, as well as  leaving the caps for both the objective and eyepiece lenses on for added protection.

All three binoculars featured in this blog come with good quality carry and storage cases. On the left, the original Opticron Aspheric LE had a simpler padded case to the one now being offered. the Nikon Prostaff 7S case is featured in the middle, followed by the hard clam shell case of the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah(right).

Well, I hope that you found this short blog useful. Above all, I hope you’ll agree that you don’t have to spend a small fortune to get good optical and mechanical quality. Indeed, those days are well and truly behind us!  And if you take reasonable care of your binocular it will provide flawless performance for many years to come.

Thanks for reading!

Neil English is the author of seven books and several hundred magazine articles in amateur and professional astronomy. He has many decades of experience testing and evaluating all manner of astronomical equipment. You can help him continue this work by purchasing one of his books. 

 

De Fideli.

A Short Commentary on the NIV Bible.

My Largeprint NIV 2011 (Anglicised)Reference Bible.

‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord,
    ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
    and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
    and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Saviour.

                                                                                    Jeremiah 23:5-6

Preamble

There’s an old Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times.”  There’s no doubt that we do and then some. At a time in history when humanity is at its most creative, its most technologically advanced, a time when scientific knowledge has been increasing exponentially, it is also a time when mankind has begun to unhinge itself from the timeless truths and morals rooted in the Judeo-Christian faith, which held much of the western world together through a common culture and creed for centuries and millennia. Church attendance began to decline in the mid-20th century, slowly at first and then more rapidly, when in the twenty first century, many of these beautiful and age-old centres of Christian worship have been transformed into pubs, restaurants and nightclubs. This is part of what the Bible calls the ‘great falling away,’ where the end of days is characterised by a small, healthy, recalcitrant Church of true believers walking the narrow path, loyal to God’s unchanging message. I believe these trends to be no accident; this falling away was augured from the foundation of the world.

Deceived by silver-tongued atheist evolutionists (read fools) who disseminated their godless(and false) ideologies in best-selling glossy books and prime-time television documentaries proclaiming that we’re not made in the image of God, as the Bible uniquely attests, and that we are only highly evolved animals, our morality was destined to take a steep nose-dive. Abortion, once outlawed in all civilised nations is now fair game in many of the same nations, where today it has become the leading cause of death in the west, outstripping heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The same is true of homosexuality. Scarcely a quarter of a century ago, surveys consistently showed that the vast majority of people were firmly against it on moral grounds. Today, as activists in positions of power have lobbied(I would say bullied) our governments to normalise it, it’s now all over our television screens – morning, noon and night. And while one or two per cent of people identify as such, I find it truly alarming that nearly every second programme beamed into our living rooms has a theme or story related to these deviant sexual lifestyles. What’s more, for a career in modern showbizz, being openly gay has almost become a prerequisite!

So I don’t watch TV anymore and carefully vet all programmes my kids choose to watch, lest their minds be caught up in this campaign for immorality.

Men are now marrying men, and women do the same. They are raising children in homes where the traditional roles of father and mother are no longer considered important. With single-parent families now the norm, children grow up without the steadying influence of a mother or a father. Small wonder so many of our little ones grow up confused. And if the present trends in society are anything to go on, polyamory will become widespread and bestiality will also be normalised.

Our entertainment industries; Hollywood, sports, gaming and pornography, take centre-stage in many of our lives and have done much to erode traditional Christian moral values. Our children learn to kill efficiently and mercilessly with their joysticks, the films they watch are filled with gratuitous violence, infidelity, and blaspheming. Pornography is ubiquitous, tearing families apart. Our sports men and women and other types of celebrities have been elevated to the status of idols and we’re on our iphones more or less constantly, bombarding our senses with as much meaningless drivel as we can possibly soak up. Instead of seeking the true God, we lose ourselves in drug-induced trances. Who needs God when you have alcohol, cannabis, heroin, crack cocaine, crystal meth and so-called ‘prescription drugs’ to dope you into a false utopia?

While childhood used to be a relatively happy and carefree time of life, our young ones are now sexualised to the hilt. Indoctrinated by depraved activists with no respect for traditional values about gender or the family, the number of children receiving puberty-blocking drugs has skyrocketed in recent years, as has the number of teenagers and adults undergoing transgender hormone therapy and/or surgery. And yet, all the while, there has been an avalanche of such transgender individuals reporting that they regret undergoing such life-changing therapies, triggering severe depression in many cases and a commensurate rise in suicides among their members. This only serves to reveal the truth in all of this; transgenderism is a mental disorder, pure and simple, and many clinicians working in the field would agree with me.

With increasing wealth comes increasing materialism. We have larger disposable incomes than at any other time in human history, and yet our propensity for greed spirals ever upward and out of control. The ugly sceptre of human covetousness has led to great deteriorations in the salubrity of the natural world, with the collapse of whole ecosystems, the decimation of animal and insect populations, and all-out extirpations of hundreds of land-based and aquatic species. Without a shadow of a doubt, humans have proven to be irresponsible stewards of the planet and we won’t be given another one.

Many forms of counterfeit Christianity have emerged in recent decades. False  teachers are a dime a dozen and very effectively disseminate their lying doctrines to their sleepwalking congregations, who have ever shorter attention spans and who resent being challenged or rebuked. Whatever you believe, however unscriptural it may be, you’ll soon find a pastor willing to tickle your ears. The internet is crawling with them!

Curiously though, all of this has occurred in lock-step with increasing knowledge of our significance in the Universe. Naive and ill-thought-through faith in Darwinian evolution led many scientists to suppose that extraterrestrial life would be the rule rather than the exception. But we are now more certain than at any time in the past that our planet is extraordinarily rare, if not unique in the Universe, and that all terrestrial life is far too complicated to have evolved naturally from the everyday laws of chemistry and physics that govern everything else in the inanimate cosmos. No, life comes from the mind of God. To deny this fact is sin. Life on Earth is God’s ‘Ace card,’ and human life His Royal Flush. We ain’t going anywhere either, to the chagrin of space-age dreamers. With the possible exception of our nearby Moon, humans are unable to travel and live on other worlds. The reason is simple; our physiology precludes it.

Lawlessness has greatly increased in recent times, with hardly a day going by before we hear of another terrorist strike, protest or war breaking out. The victims of these conflicts are usually the ordinary citizens, leading to the destruction of their homes, their places of business and worship and their livelihoods. Millions of people have been displaced from their homelands, creating the largest humanitarian crisis in living memory. Christian persecution worldwide has also greatly increased in our times. Coupled to all of this, the events surrounding the prophecies of Ezekiel (Chapters 36, 37, 38 and 39) are now aligning themselves in the Middle East. You simply couldn’t make this stuff up!

The bubble has truly burst!

Bearing in mind how human society has changed in recent years, would it be unreasonable for God to express His displeasure with us?

I don’t think so!

This pandemic is a chastisement from the Living God.

The Bible informs us that God expresses His indignation with His human subjects in a variety of ways; by sending freak weather – fires, floods, droughts and blizzards as judgements. He sends plagues, pestilences and earthquakes which, like Sun and rain, affect both the righteous and the unrighteous. He turns the wicked over to strong delusion so that they wallow in their lies and seared consciences. And yet, Jesus warned us that as humans become more wicked and depraved, all of these events would increase both in magnitude and frequency, just like birth pains, toward the time of the end. And this is the world we now inhabit. In one fell swoop, by allowing(but not causing) the spread of the Coronavirus, God has silenced the idols of Hollywood, the idols of sport, and the idols of health, wealth and prosperity. He has restricted our freedoms and our civil liberties.

God now has our undivided attention and the world would do well to listen. Perhaps most importantly, God is reminding us not to get too caught up in the cares of this world and that this is not our ultimate home. Everything we possess and covet will be burned up when God finally brings this Universe to a fiery end.

Of course, none of these trends come as a surprise to Bible believing Christians, who have been forewarned about them in the words of Scripture. Christians know and understand that the world ruled by man, with no regard or acknowledgement of the Creator, is doomed to failure and always goes from bad to worse, so that it is hardly surprising all of these events are converging in this day and age. And while I’m confident that we will get through this Coronavirus pandemic, there will certainly be other and possibly bigger challenges to come, especially if wider society does not repent.  It also highlights the importance of understanding what God has planned for his people, and one of the best ways of gleaning that information is by reading the Bible.

Background to the NIV

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and in the case of the New International Version (NIV), it was born out of a desire to share the gospel with those who had never heard it. It’s story began with one man, Howard Long, an engineer by profession based in Seattle. Possessing a strong Christian faith, Long spent a lot of his time travelling and liked to share his faith with others. Back in the 1950s, there were only a few Bibles penned in the English language, but the one most popularly used by evangelical Christians at that time was the old King James Version(KJV). But Long soon hit a snag; quite a few of the people he witnessed to didn’t really understand the KJV, as it was written in archaic English. And that got him thinking, “can a new translation be made of the Bible in contemporary English that accurately conveys the Word of God?” That question started a decade long consultation with Bible scholars across the nation and by 1965, he had successfully received support from the Christian Reformed Church and the National Association of Evangelicals, who set up a new committee that would begin work on a brand new translation of the Holy Scriptures that was not based on any other existing translations at the time, and which would draw upon the latest Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic manuscripts. By 1966, Long had successfully garnered the support from 80 evangelical ministry leaders who established the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), an independent body overseeing the creation of the NIV.

Thus began the painstaking process of creating a new English Bible translation with the goal of attaining maximum accuracy and readability for a contemporary audience. Each book of the Bible was assigned to a translation team consisting of two translators, a couple of translation consultants and, where necessary, an English style consultant. Furthermore, another 5-strong team of scholars reviewed their work, comparing it to the original biblical texts and assessing its readability. After that, each book went to a committee of between eight and twelve scholars, as well as lay reviewers who offered constructive criticism on the translation in regard to comprehension and overall literary style. Finally copies were dispatched to working pastors, students and members of church congregations for general feedback. By 1968, the CBT secured a financial sponsor in Biblica, who oversaw the development of the NIV text, and by 1978 Zondervan became the official publisher of the newly completed NIV Bible. The first print run – amounting to a million copies – was sold out almost overnight.

The NIV was the first to use gender inclusive language, recognising that older translations tended to use male biased terminology to reflect the culture in which the Scriptures were first penned. An example can be seen in 1 Thessalonians 2:1. Here is how the KJV reads:

We beseech you, brethern……….

And in the NIV :

You know, brothers and sisters……………

The aim of the translators in producing more gender inclusive language was to make it more accessible to a female readership. In most cases, these changes are entirely inoffensive, as they do not detract from any doctrinal issue and render the text more natural sounding to a modern reader who accepts the equality of men and women as children of the Most High. But in other passages the use of gender inclusive language renders the translation somewhat corny or awkward. Take Mark 1:17 for example. In the KJV it reads:

I will make you to become fishers of men

Note how the NIV phrases the same passage:

I will send you out to fish for people

The NIV underwent its first revision revision in 1984. This version is probably the highest regarded among Bible readers and remains a firm favourite with a broad section of Christians. But in 2005, more revisions were introduced including the highly controversial Today’s New International Version (TNIV), which introduced gender neutral language to refer to people. Noting the tendency of older versions to translate humanity as ‘Mankind,’ the TNIV replaced many of the passages emphasising overtly male-centred language. An example will help illustrate the point.

Here is how the 1984 NIV translated Genesis 1:27

So God created mankind in his own image

The TNIV translates the same passage as:

So God created human beings in his own image

Many Bible commentators felt that this was a step too far, as it sought, they argued, to make the Bible more ‘politically correct.’ Taking these criticisms on the chin, the CBT brought out a new version of the NIV, discontinuing both the 1984 version and the TNIV. Called the NIV 2011, it toned down a lot of the gender neutral language introduced by the TNIV, making it more similar to the NIV 1984. Indeed the CBT stated in the introduction to the 2011 edition that, “the updated NIV you now have in your hands builds both on the original NIV and the TNIV….”

The interested reader can learn more about the NIV 2011 by clicking on the Preamble link at the top of this page.

Strking a Balance Between Two Translation Philosophies

Unlike old Bibles like the KJV, which drew upon a relatively small number of newer manuscripts( 12th century and younger), 100+ bible scholars working on the NIV included the Dead Sea Scrolls (which featured a number of Old Testament books), the Masoretic Hebrew Texts (which are the authoritative Hebrew scriptures, featuring 24 books of the Hebrew Bible), the Samaritan Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible attributed to Moses), the Latin Vulgate (a 4th century Latin translation made by St.Jerome that remained the official Catholic Church’s Bible for many centuries), to name but a few. All of these manuscripts were thoroughly read, translated and brought into modern English.  The translation process was long, thoughtful, and in-depth.

Some critics of the NIV have stated that many verses have been left out or placed in footnotes when compared to translations like the KJV, the New King James Version(NKJV) and the newer Modern English Version(MEV). But The CBT were justified in doing so as many of the older manuscripts discovered in the centuries after the KJV was created do not contain such verses. The decision to do this was not at all intended to deceive, as some Bible commentators I’ve read have suggested but rather to clarify them as facts. For example, the ending of Mark’s gospel is presented in italics with a heading stating that, “the earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9-20.”

The ending of Mark’s gospel (chapter 16) in the NIV 2011 is presented in italics to emphasise the fact that many of the oldest manuscripts did not contain such verses.

A curious aside: Check out this youtube link to an NIV user who was villified by KJV onlyists. Such bigotry is, unfortunately, still alive and well today

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Most modern Bible translations draw on one of two translation philosophies; so-called ‘word-for-word’ and ‘thought-for-thought’ (sometimes referred to as dynamic equivalence) The KJV, NKJV, MEV and New American Standard Bible(NASB) and the English Standard Version(ESV) are highly literal, word-for -word translations, but many readers, especially new Christians, find them to be difficult to read and understand. The NIV is a thought-for-thought translation, and so often departs from the precise wording of more literal Bible translations in order to convey the essential concepts more firmly.  That said, having read the NIV 1984, TNIV and the NIV 2011 in their entirety, I would say that all achieve a very high level of technical precision yet are easy to read. The language of the NIV is at a grade 7 level and so is suitable for all readers 12 years old and upwards. In regard to reading through the NIV 2011 in particular, I found it to be very enriching experience. And while it is a new and fresh translation, it is obviously respectful of classic translations like the KJV. The poetic sections of the NIV Bible, particularly the Book of Psalms, is arguably one of the best presentations I have personally encountered.

The author’s TNIV.

As an avid reader and collector of different Bible translations, I recognise the value of every version. What may be unclear in one rendering of the Word of God, other translations can help you arrive at a crystal clear understanding of the same text. Crucially though, the NIV, like all other modern English Bible translations, there is no change in doctrine between them. So you can be assured that in reading the NIV you will arrive at an accurate understanding of God’s message to humanity.

There has never been a better time to get back into reading the word of God, and the NIV 2011 is a great, scholarly translation that is both accurate and easy to read. But I would also recommend reading another more literal version of the Bible as well if you can. As world events continue to unravel before our very eyes, knowledge of the Bible will help you see the wood for the trees, so that you’re not frightened or caught off guard when disaster strikes. Time spent reading and applying Biblical wisdom will be added to your life.

Dr. Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. He delights in using science to debunk misconceptions about the supposed incompatability of science and faith.

 

Postsciptum:

The NIV is also available in both American an anglicised (UK) English

The NIV has also been translated into many other languages to reach millions of non-English speaking people around the world.

Like all good Bible translations, the entire text of the NIV can be accessed free online.

There are audio versions of the NIV available. Arguably one of the best is narrated by the actor and Christian, David Suchet.

The full Gospel of Mark(NIV version) can be watched here.

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30.

The Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30.

In recent years, a flood of high-performance 8 x 30 roof prism binoculars have hit the market to cater for the demands of birders, hunters and nature enthusiasts looking to blend the comfortable and immersive performance of larger 42 and 50mm models with the smaller and lighter frames usually only found in compact or pocket binoculars. For example, Swarovski have successfully launched their CL Companion in 8x and 10x 30mm formats and Nikon have introduced a range of 8 x 30 models varying both in price and quality. While their flagship model – the HG 8 x 30 – retails for about the same price as the CL companion(£800 to £900 UK), Nikon also offer a number of more economically priced units in their Monarch 7 and Prostaff 3S, 5S and 7S models.  Curious to test out one of these models, I took a punt on the Prostaff 7S 8 x 30 model, which I was able to buy at a cost of £139 including delivery. Was it worth the cost? Absolutely yes! To see why, read on.

The package was boxed away nicely and included the 8 x 30 binocular, a quality padded neck strap, an instruction manual in a number of different langauges, and plastic rainguard and objective dust caps. The Prostaff 7S also comes wth a 10 year (non-transferable) warranty.

The Nikon Prostaff 7S 8x 30 package.

My decision to purchase this unit was not entirely blind however. I became most intrigued by a very favourable review of this binocular from Allbinos.com as well as a string of positive reviews posted on amazon.co.uk.  Allbinos have cultivated a good reputation with die hard binocular enthusiasts owing to their impartiality and stringent testing regimes. That this binocular did so well in their tests is not surprising(in retrospect), as you’ll soon discover!

First Impressions: The binocular arrived in perfect condition. From the moment I first prized the instrument from its soft, black carry case, I was very impressed with the fit and feel of the instrument. The Prostaff 8 x 30 is exceptionally light weight; just 415g in fact, thanks to a tough, polycarbonate body overlaid by a thick, textured rubber overcoat with excellent grip. That makes it even lighter than the 8 x 32 Celestron Trailseeker(453g) I have been using in recent times. The focus wheel is exceptionally smooth with absolutely no backlash when racked clockwise or anti-clockwise from one extreme of focus travel to the other, and is also overlaid by the same thick rubber that attends the body armouring, making it wonderfully easy to manouevre either with or without gloves. From end to end, the focus wheel rotates through about 340 degrees (so less than one revolution), which translates into a very quick and responsive way to get from close up to far away with very little effort.

The Prostaff 7S 8x 30 has high quality twist-up eyecups for comfortable use with or without eye glasses.

The dioptre adjustment is located in the standard position for most binoculars offered at this price point; that is, under the right ocular lens. It is rigidly held and has a mark on it which enables the user to precisely record the optimum position for one’s eye. The unit is water proof(10 minutes at 1m depth), O-ring sealed and nitrogen purged to prevent internal fogging and corrsion of any metal parts housed inside the barrels. The eyecups are of high quality, rubber-over-metal and have four positions from fully down to fully up. They hold their positions very well, even when considerable pressure is applied to them, and stay rigidly in place in routine use. I found that the most comfortable position for my eyes was to extend them fully upwards, where they provide a comfortable 15.4mm of eye relief. That’s good enough for both eyeglass wearers and those(like yours truly) who prefer to view without glasses. The instrument is 11.9 cm long(with the eycups fully down) and 12.3 cm width(fully extended)

The black and gold livery of the Prosfaff 7S 8x 30 is very eye-catching.

The bridge has a single central hinge that enables one to adjust the IPD with just the right amount of tension so that once adjusted, they maintain that position very well.

The Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30 comes with a plastic rain guard to cover the eyepiece lenses and plastic objective caps that clip tightly into the recessed part of the objectives. Some folk have cried foul of these because they are plastic but I’ve not had that experience. I actually prefer them to the regular synthetic rubber caps since they remain tightly in place and so do their intended job  perfectly well.

Ergonomically, this little bino was a very pleasant surprise! I have always found the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 quite tricky to hold in my rather small hands(for a bloke) well owing, to its very large central bridge. As you can see from the photo below, compared with the Celestron, the Nikon Prostaff 7S has a shorter bridge which enables me to wrap my hands firmly ’round the top end of the barrels much more effectively, whilst enabling me to focus using my left index finger.

The Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30(right) has a significantly shorter central bridge than the Celestron Trailseeker(left), making it much easier to grip with both hands. Note the absence of a tripod stalk on the Nikon, which also frees up some space.

Another good design feature of these Prostaff 7S binoculars is their deeply recessed objective lenses, which affords protection from dust and rain, as well as serving as a barrier against the contrast-robbing peripheral glare.

The objective lenses on the Prostaff 7S are deeply recessed.

Optical Testing

The specifications supplied by Nikon state that the Prostaff 7S is fully multi-coated with a phase coating applied to the roof prisms. Light throughput is boosted by a mirror coating(possibly aluminium but more likely silver). By itself, these statements are meaningless unless one assesses the optical performance of the binocular in person. Indeed, I had learned from previous acquisitions that you don’t always get what you pay for.

But right from the get go, this little Prostaff impressed. As is my usual custom, I started by testing how good the binocular handled stray light and glare but performing my iphone torch test. This involves turning my torch up to its brightest setting and aiming the binocular directly into the light from just a few metres away. The result was excellent! Compared with my control binocular; the 8 x 42 Barr & Stroud, it showed an equally clean image, with no diffused light and only the merest amount of internal reflections. The Prostaff 7S did exhibit a fairly prominent diffraction spike though – which is common in roof prism binoculars –  much more than in my 8 x 42 control, which shows only the merest trace of a spike in comparison, but less intense than in my Zeiss Terra pocket glass. Testing the binocular on a bright sodium street lamp at night also showed excellent results, with no annoying internal reflections, excellent control of glare and a very modest diffraction spike. These results convinced me that the binocular ought to produce excellent contrast in daylight images, especially when pointed at strongly backlit subjects.

The Nikon Prostaff 7S 8x 30 passed my iphone torch test with excellent results. The Barr & Stroud 8x 42 control binocular(right) was used as a suitable control owing to its superb suppression of stray light.

Glassing a variety of targets in the open air yielded impressive results too. The image was tack sharp, with great colour rendition and contrast, and it remaiined very sharp from the centre to the very edge of the binocular field. The binocular exhibits very mild pincushion distortion as judged by examining a telephone pole moved from the centre to the edge of the field stop. The brightness of the image was also noteworthy. Despite its lack of the highest reflectivity dielectric coatings, the binocular completely outperformed my 8 x 25 Zeiss Terra(a first-rate pocket glass) in low light conditions at dusk, but was very comparable to the brightness served up by the Celestron 8 x 32, which does have those dielectric prism coatings.

The Allbinos review measured the light transmission of the Prostaff 7S 8 x 30 at about 87 percent; which seems very credible to me. But what’s even more interesting is that it had a higher light transmission than the more costly Monarch 7 – measured at 85 per cent – which has ED glass objective elements.  This provides further evidence against the commonly parroted notion that ED binoculars produce brighter images; they do not! Brightness is much more strongly linked to the quality of the coatings applied to the lenses and prisms in the optical train. The Monarch 7 does have dielectric coatings however, so the Allbinos test result was a little surprising. There is a rational explanation though; having a significantly larger field than the Prostaff 7S, the Nikon Monarch 7 likely has a more complex optical design. And that usually means one or more extra optical components are needed to produce its very large (8.2 degree) field of view.  Indeed, if you look at the transmission data for a variety of ED and non-ED binos made by different manufacturers tested and published by Allbinos, you’ll soon see that ED glass does not, in itself, equate to brighter images.

As the reviewers on the Allbinos website remarked about the Prostaff 7S’  light tramsmission;

They didn’t stint on coatings, though. A transmission level in a wide range of the spectrum not much worse than 90% is something you don’t see often when it comes to roof prism binoculars sold at this price point.

The reader will also note that the state-of-the-art Swarovski CL Companion 8 x 30 has a transmittivity of 90 per cent(as published on  the Swarovski website), so the Prostaff 7S 8 x 30 will more than hold its own against it in low light conditions.

The larger exit pupil (3.75mm) on the Nikon Prostaff 7S makes for much easier positioning of one’s eye sockets than in smaller pocket glasses, which results in very comfortable, immersive glassing, even during prolonged field use. The silky smooth focuser makes this instrument particularly nice to use. Indeed, this little Prostaff has re-kindled my interest in both 30 and 32mm formats because of their sheer versatility. All of these findings raise an interesting and legitimate question: how can Nikon produce such a great performing binocular and market it at a relatively low price point? The answer, to some degree, pertains to its smaller field of view –  just 6.5 degrees. Most binoculars with these specifications have significantly larger fields – usually from about 7.5 to 8.3 degrees. Nikon obviously decided to restrict the field of view so as to maintain excellent image sharpness from the centre to very near the field stop. And that’s entirely understandable. I would personally prefer a smaller, sharper field than a larger one which blurs significantly as one moves out of the central sweet spot. And 6.5 degrees is plenty wide enough. I certainly don’t subscribe to the philosophy that once you regularly experience a 8+ field, there’s no going back. Besides, I already have a most excellent wide angle 8 x 42 binocular which delivers a very expansive 8.2 degree(143m@ 1000m) true field.

Another cost-cutting measure is to use a synthetic polymer to house the optics. This is quite acceptable too, as polycarbonate frames have been tried and tested with many other binocular makers over the years. It also shaves off additional weight to render the instrument lighter and more portable.

Many binoculars display a marked drop off in brightness towards the edges of the field. Not so with the little Nikon Prostaff 7S 8x 30! Indeed, I could detect little or no attenuation in brightness around the periphery of the field during daylight hours, which does add more aesthetic punch to the image garnered by this lightweight roof prism binocular that will certainly appeal to almost anyone who uses it. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled, but like most any quality instrument of this nature, it does show a trace when examining a high contrast object like a telephone pole against a bright background sky and only if you go searching for it. Like I said before in other binocular reviews, any discussion on chromatic aberration in well-made modern glasses like these amounts to little more than drivel.

The underside of the Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30 binocular.

So, to sum up the daylight performance of these 8 x 30 binoculars, I would agree wholeheartedly with the concluding comments proferred by the reviewers at Allbinos:

For a quite moderate amount of money you get an optical instrument without any serious flaw. Due to its physical dimensions it might become your loyal and efficient companion on different trips……………….. we are very pleasantly surprised by the performance of the small Nikon – let’s hope there are more and more such good instruments available on the market. 

Note added in proof: My hunches regarding the lower light transmission of bigger, more complex binoculars appears to be corroborated in this Allbinos review of the Vortex Viper HD 10 x 42. But there are many other examples one can point to by means of illustration.

Ad Astra

Having in my possession a modest collection of binoculars from 20mm up to 60mm aperture, I can say, hand on heart, that 30mm is about the minimum that I would be happy with for regular stargazing. This, of course, does not at all detract from my ongoing blog using smaller pocket glasses, where I wrote (and continue to write) about using these small instruments on the basis of, ” what if these were your only binocular?”

Yes, a 30mm aperture binocular will be vastly superior to a 20mm or 25mm glass when it comes to viewing the heavens. The larger aperture of the objectives and the larger exit pupil render this possible. The Prostaff 7S 8 x 30 pulled in significantly more starlight on virtually all objects I tested the glass on. Views of the showpiece objects, such as the M35, M36 to M38, the Pleiades and Hydaes, the Double Cluster, the Beehive Cluster(M44) and the Coma Berenices Cluster were very nicely rendered in this binocular with excellent contrast, while scanning the late winter Milky Way was a very pleasant experience indeed. Because of its nearly flat field, stars remain sharply focused nearly all the way to the field stop, and I was able to verify the true field of this binocular as being very close to the manufacturer’s published figure of 6.5 angular degrees. I was only just unable to image the two stars at the end of the handle of the Ploughshare(Big Dipper) – Alkaid and Mizar – within the same field. These stars are separated by 6.67 angular degrees.

Overall Conclusions

Worth the price: the Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30 does what it says on the tin.

By most anyone’s standards, the Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30 provides excellent ergonomics and optics given its very modest retail price. And now that the media has decimated the world economy through shameless scaremongering over the coronavirus, this would be a good binocular to acquire if you’re on a tight budget. Personally, I prefer it to the 8 x 32 Celestron Trailseeker(now bequeathed to my my eldest son) because of its superior handling, lower weight, better corrected field and similar light transmission. It’s a joy to use and should give its owners plenty to crow about for many years. In an age of deceptive advertising and influential binocular shills, the Nikon Prostaff 7S 8 x 30 could be all the binocular you might ever need.

 

Highly recommended!

 

Dr. Neil English is the author of seven books on amateur and professional astronomy. Taking no prisoners, he has dedicated much of his writings to de-bunking scientific and obsevational myths promulgated by fake gurus and armchair amateurs who wouldn’t know the North Star from Uranus.

 

De Fideli.

A Magical Evening with Plotina.

Plotina; the author’s 130mm f/5 Newtonian still strutting her stuff.

It’s hard to believe that four long years have gone by since I first discovered the considerable virtues of a modest 130mm f/5 flextube Newonian reflector. Like the larger 8-inch f/6 Newtonian I switched to in 2015, this 5.1 inch instrument has proven to be an excellent all-round performer, doubling up as a high performance spotting ‘scope by day and a fantastic grab ‘n’ go telescope at night, where its very decent aperture, fine optics, light-weight portabiity and quick cool down time has yielded excellent views of the Moon, bright planets, deep sky fuzzies and a whole raft of double stars.

Shortly after testing the basic SkyWatcher unit, I invested in some modest-costing upgrades to further enhance the performance of this telescope. The secondary mirror was upgraded to one of higher quality and slightly smaller size (26.9 per cent linear obstruction). In addition, I had both the original SkyWatcher primary and upgraded secondary re-aluminised with Orion Optics UK’s proprietary HiLux coatings with 97 per cent reflectivity, giving an overall transmission of 90 per cent at the eyepiece once the area of the central obstruction is also factored in. The original flextube was replaced by a solid aluminium tube from a SkyWatcher 130P, providing a more stable arrangement for the secondary mirror housing. The tube was lined with cork and overlaid with flocking material to minimise stray light and increase image contrast. Finally, both the primary and secondary mirrors were equipped with Bob’s knobs to facilitate easy and quick collimation of the optical train. The resulting instrument sits pretty on a light weight alt-azimuth mount – a Vixen Porta II – which can be used both terrestrially and for astronomical observations.

The Vixen erector lens system used to obtain correctly oriented views with Newtonian reflectors.

In previous blogs I investigated ways to use this small reflector as a terrestrial spotting ‘scope, discovering methods to enjoy correctly oriented terrestrial views using a Vixen erecting adapter.The device allows the use of any eyepiece, thereby creating a spotting ‘scope with a much larger range of magnifications than those offered by conventional spotting ‘scopes. Its much greater light grasp allows me to enjoy crisp and bright high-power images well into twilight.

The 130mm f/5 Newtonian in terrestrial spotting ‘scope mode using the Vixen erector lens.

My 130mm f/5(aka ‘Plotina’) has travelled all over the British Isles with me, safely packed away in its foam-lined aluminium carry case, where it has sampled great skies in southern Ireland, northern England, Scotland and south Wales. These observations strengthened my conviction that there are many places where conditions are good enough to push the resolving power of this Newtonian telescope. Indeed, I have been able to split sub arc second pairs(0.9″) at ultra-high powers (up to 405x) in many of these locations. During summer heat, cool autumn and spring nights and freezing winter evenings, the telescope has never disappointed. Indeed, it has greatly exceeded all my expectations for it!

Portable powerhouse.

Best of all, it has saved me an absolute fortune, allowing me to completely break free from using small, expensive refractors, which became somewhat of an obsession with me for the best part of a decade. And quite frankly, to go back there again would be bonkers!

February 25 2020 Observations

Time: 21:20 to 23:15

Conditions; Cold (1-2 C), mostly clear and transparent skies with no Moon and with intermittent blustery west or northwesterly gusts. Seeing very good (Ant II).

Although the telescope optics takes a good 30 to 40 minutes to obtain the best high power images when taken from a warm indoor environment, it most certainly can be used with immediate effect if you start with low power wide field targets. I’ve recorded quite a few instances in which antagonists claim that the same telescope takes too long to acclimate to be a real grab ‘n’ go contender, but this is based largely on ignorance, laziness or just plain old lack of resourcefulness. In addition, it’s important to stress that I do not employ cooling fans on this or any of my other telescopes.

Accordingly, I initiated the session with low power (26x), larger deep sky objects, beginning with some showpiece open clusters such as the Double Cluster in Perseus, which was beautifully rendered in the wide, 2.3 degree true field served up by my Celestron X-Cel LX 25mm ocular.  From there, I ventured over to the large and bright open cluster M34 (also Perseus) enjoying several dozen stellar members, many of which are arranged in neat double or triples(mostly telescopic in nature), and then ventured southward into Gemini now sinking into the western sky, where I enjoyed a stunning view of the expansive M35, the excellent light grasp of the reflector showing up many fainter members that are either invisible or very faintly rendered in smaller (4-inch and under) refractors. The 130mm F/5 is a particularly good telescope for observing this sprawling Messier open cluster, combining the near-ideal combination of aperture, magnification and field of view to fully immerse myself in the view.

Camelopardalis was well situated high in the sky and so I sought out an opportunity to track down Kemble’s Cascade, so named after the late Canadian observer, and Franciscan friar, Father Lucian Kemble(1922-1999), who first called the amateur community’s attention to this remarkable, linear array of  15 or so stars tumbling down to the small open cluster NGC 1502 across the border in Cassiopeia. Spanning a full 2.5 angular degrees, Plotina was not quite able to encompass the cascade in its entirety. That said, the telescope served up a wonderful sight of stars ranging in brightness from the fifth to the 9th magnitude of glory. It is all the more remarkable that Kemble actually chanced upon this visually striking asterism using diminutive 7 x 35 wide-angle binoculars!

After spending a few minutes drinking up the view of the mangnificent Beehive Cluster M44 in Cancer, the telescope was now sufficiently well cooled to crank up the power to get some close-up views of the three Messier open clusters in Auriga. For these, I employed a power of 118x(Meade Series 5000  5.5mm UWA) in a generous 0.7 degree true field. All three clusters are visually striking in the 130mm f/5 at this moderate power, but by far the most fetching in my opinion is M36, which transforms from a small foggy patch about one third of the size of the full Moon in 8 x 42 binoculars(also accompanying me at the telescope) into a granular mound of faint stars some 5 dozen strong. Increasing the magnification to 135x using my 4.8mm T1 Nagler improved the view still further by helping to pull the faintest members of this cluster out of the background sky.

I was now ready to visit a suite of my favourite seasonal doubles well placed for observation on late February evenings. I began in Auriga, centring the bright white star Theta Aurigae. Cranking up the power 236x(Meade UWA 5.5mm and 2x Orion Shorty Barlow) and carefully focusing, I was delighted to obtain a near perfect image of the bright primary and the spark of the much fainter secondary tucked up close to it. This is quite a tricky system to image well though, and is thus a good test of seeing conditions at my backyard observing site, but tonight presented good conditions(as they often do here and elsewhere), so I knew that visiting a few other tricky systems would be a worthwhile pursuit on this fine evening.

Off I sped to enjoy an easy system first; Castor A & B, which was beautifully rendered at 236x in the 130mm, the two bright components presenting as pure white Airy disks, with the much fainter C companion easily seen wide away. From there I moved the telescope a little way ‘down’ the western sky until I centred  creamy Wasat (Delta Geminorum). The challenge here is to bag the exceedingly faint and close-in companion shining nearly five stellar mangnitudes fainter. I have found, through experience, that the Meade UWA 5.5mm yielding 118x provides the most compelling view of this optically delicate companion. The older 4.8mm T1 Nagler is not as good as the newer Meade ocular in showing this system at its best. I attribute this to slightly better coatings applied to the newer eyepiece. Attempting to push my luck, I panned the telescope a little to the northwest to the lovely marmalde orange star, Eta Geminorum(Propus) but even after crankning up the power to 270x and 354x, I was unable to resolve its very close-in companion. That said, this system was by now well past meridian passage and sinking lower into more turbulent air in the western sky.

As the evening progressed, Leo was now beginning to assert itself still somewhat east of the meridian. After a few minutes enjoying the rich aureal tints of Algieba(Gamma Leonis) and its companion, I panned the instrument southeastward until I centred Iota Leonis in the 6 x 30 finder accompanying the main telescope. This is quite a challenging system to resolve, consisting as it does of a 4th magnitude yellow-white primary and 7th magnitude secondary in a close-in orbit. Starting with 238x, I was able to discern the secondary as a tiny pimple like projection off the primary, but when I cranked up the power to 354x (3x Meade achromatic Barlow and 5.5mm Meade eyepiece),  and watching the system move rapidly across the field from east to west, I was finally able to see the secondary intermittently detached from the primary.  That said, I could have done with another hour and a half of waiting until it reached its maximum altitude in the south, but I was just happy to be able to resolve the system reasonably well at this earlier time of about 11pm local time.

Re-visiting Cassiopeia, still well placed high in the northern sky, I was able to enjoy a wonderful view of the lovely triple system, Iota Cassiopeia, which was easily resolved into its three components at 236x with the 130mm Newtonian. Nearby Eta Cassiopeia, with its comely red and yellow components widely spaced at 236x was also a worthwhile system to visit on this cold February night. Images remained sharp, crisp and contrasty even at these high telescopic powers.

Taking a quick break with my 8 x 42, I ventured to the front of the house, where I noted a rather lobsided Plough high in the northeast and lower down, the main stars of Bootes had by now cleared the murky air above the Fintry Hills to the east of the house. I then decided to move the telescope on its Vixen Porta II mount(which I can easily manoeuvre with one hand). Aiming my 6 x 30 finder at the two Alulas in Ursa Major, I centred each system in turn in the 130mm reflector. Alula Australis was truly a sight for sore eyes at 236x, the two stars presenting with beautiful, round yellow Airy disks separated by a sizeable sliver of dark sky. This is a fascinating system to watch with a small backyard telescope, where both 4th magnitude components complete one orbit of their barycentre in just 60 years! Ruddy Alula Borealis presented a different kind of challenge though, rather like Delta Geminorum observed earlier in the vigil. Using the very high contrast views of the Meade UWA 5.5mm, I was able to just make out the tiny and very faint spark of light of its close-in secondary at 118x.

I ended this late February observation session by trying my hand at Epsilon Bootis(Izar), a favourite Spring binary system. still quite low in the east at or shortly after 11.15pm local time. Deciding on a moderately high power of 238x, Plotina managed a decent split of this gorgeous colour-contrast pair(yellow and blue), but its low altitude was, of course, attended by increased atmospheric turbulence.

The title of this blog included the word, ‘magical,’ with the implication that there was something out-of-the ordinary about what the 130mm Newtonian can show. The truth is that these targets, especially the high-resolution systems discussed, can be enjoyed fairly routinely with this telescope from many locations(you just have to test them) and it is my fondest hope that others will take up the same challenges with their small Newtonian relectors.

 

Neil English has created a considerable volume of literature highlighting the many attributes of the 130mm f/5 Newtonian. He is seriously considering writing a full length manuscript of his experiences with this transformative instrument at some time in the future.

 

De Fideli.

 

 

8 x 42 vs 8 x 32; Which is More Versatile?

Two good binoculars: The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42(left) and the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32(right).

Many binocular enthusiasts will often recommend a good 8 x 42 as the near perfect all-round instrument for birding, hunting and astronomy. This recommendation seems sensible enough given their medium size, weight and decent light gathering power for use in bright daylight, low light conditions and stargazing. But the increasingly popular compact 8 x 32 has also earned a respectable place in the hearts of many birders and sightseers owing to its lighter weight but greater light gathering power over a pocket binocular. But that raises an interesting question; which model is more versatile in the long run?

To begin to answer that question, I’ve spent some time comparing and contrasting the efficacy of two binoculars in these size classes; a Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42, which I have written enthusiastically about in a past blog, and more recently, a Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32, described in more detail here.

Let’s first look at the specifications of both models at a glance:

The Barr & Stroud 8 x 42

Fully multi-coated

Phase coated(probably silver or enhanced aluminium)

8.2 degree FOV(143m@1000m)

5.25mm exit pupil

18mm eye relief

Dry nitrogen purged

Waterproof

810g

Retail Price: £120 UK

The Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32

Fully broadband multi-coated

Phase coated(high reflectivity dielectric coatings)

7.8 degree FOV(137m @1000m)

4mm exit pupil

15.6mm eye relief

Dry nitrogen purged

Waterproof

453g

Retail Price: £125(recently reduced for clearance owing to the discontinuation of the model)

Performance in Bright Daylight Conditions

Both instruments serve up  very sharp, high contrast images of well-illuminated targets with virtually no chromatic aberration(this is widely exagerrated by many reviewers but is actually not really an issue in any realistic situation. Indeed, in my comparison of smaller high-quality ED and non-ED instruments there has never been a target that I have imaged where ED glass made any meaningful difference to the viewing experience). The Celestron has a narrower field of view and a smaller ultra-sharp sweetspot. The Barr & Stroud displays a wider, flatter field with a noticeably larger sweetspot. The larger exit pupil on the latter makes viewing that little bit more comfortable, since positioning the eye over a larger shaft of light is easier to achieve. Both instruments generate images that are about equally bright under these conditions though. Near equal too is their ability to suppress glare and internal reflections owing to good baffling and high-quality coatings applied to all optical surfaces. The objective lenses are also deeply recessed in both binoculars, offering protection against rain, wind-blown dust, as well as serving as an effective barrier against peripheral glare.

I also noted slight differences between these instruments in colour tone when observing brightly illuminated daylight targets. The Celestron had a more neutral colour tone, whereas those of the Barr & Stroud were ever so slightly yellower and darker in comparison.

The focusing wheels on both instruments are notably different in field use however. The Barr & Stroud possess one of the best focusers I have personally experienced(indeed they have been very good in a number of other instruments marketed by the same company). It is buttery smooth and very easy to adjust in situations where rapid changes of focus are necessary. The Celestron focuser has much more tension in comparison, even after using it for a considerable number of hours in the field. When rapid focusing is required, the Barr & Stroud Savannah is clearly superior, which makes a significant difference when scanning fast-moving targets like birds flying across the field of view.

There is also a significant difference in eye relief between the two instruments. The Barr & Stroud has a whopping 18mm eye relief whereas the Celestron Trailseeker only exhibits 15.6mm in comparison. What this means in practice is that the latter is far more comfortable to use while using eyeglasses. I can see the entire field of the Savannah if I use my eyeglasses but it’s a lot more challenging with the Trailseeker.

The weight difference between the models is considerable however; with the Celestron tipping the scales at just over half the weight of the Barr & Stroud. Indeed the latter is one of the heaviest  8 x 42s currently available, while the Celestron Trailseeker is one of the lightest models in its aperture class. This has a significant  bearing on  prolonged use and transport in the field, where neck strain is effectively eliminated in the light-weight Celestron.

Low Light Performance

On paper, one would reasonably expect that the significantly larger 8 x 42 would prove better in low light conditions, such as those experienced at dawn and dusk, but my testing revealed some surprising results! In a nutshell, the Celestron Trailseeker proved to be much closer to the Barr & Stroud under such conditions! Immediately after sunset on several late January evenings, I found that both instruments produced very similar performance in terms of the brightness of the images garnered of a heavily lichen-adorned tree branch located some 50 metres off in the distance. Indeed, the 8 x 42 only pulled noticeaby ahead well into twilight when the last light of day was ebbing from the landscape. This seemed genuinely puzzling to me, as I fully expected the results to be well, like night and day.  But why though?

The first significant difference between the models relates to the coatings used on the roof prisms in both instruments. The Celestron Trailseeker has state-of-the-art dielectric coatings that significantly improve its light transmission over a similar sized model with lower reflectivity aluminium or silver coatings. Maybe the Trailseeker has better anti-reflection coatings applied to the lenses making up the objectives and the eyepieces? The second thing that I noted is the significantly larger frame of the Barr & Stroud Savannah, which will have commensurately larger prisms than the smaller Celestron, with the implication that more light will be absorbed while traversing the former. That said, I still couldn’t understand why an instrument with 42mm objectives was not pulling very far ahead under such low light conditions than an instrument with only 32mm aperture objectives. Quite frankly, it still didn’t add up!

It was then that I realised that the best explanation possibly pertained to the size of the exit pupil under the same conditions. As any amateur astronomer worth his/her salt will tell you, the pupil of the eye is designed such that it dilates in low light conditions to allow more light to reach the retina. Indeed, this is one of the ABCs in telescopic deep sky observing, where a fully dilated eye pupil shows you much fainter objects than eyes that are newly accustomed to the dark. But while some dilation certainly occurs under low light, I wondered whether there was a limit to how much dilation actually occurs during early twilight, when the differences were observed to be most similar in both instruments. If my eyes only extended from say 2.5mm during bright daylight to a liitle over 4mm in early twilight, the extra millimetre or so offered by the 8 x 42 would be of no significant benefit. Maybe my eyes were just not capable of using the 5.25mm offered up by the larger 8 x 42 under such conditions?

I also noted that the tests on both binoculars were carried out more or less simultaneously for the duration of about 15 minutes, so not long enough to induce big changes in the ratio of rhodopsin(which reaches higher concentrations in darker conditions) to retinal(which exhibits higher concentrations in bright light conditions) In addition, the eye takes quite a long time to effect these biochemical changes, and most certainly longer than the 15 minute duration over which these tests were conducted. Moreover, rhodopsin is still rather labile even in low light conditions such as those encountered during the twilight sessions. However, these findings were quite in keeping with the subsequent experiences I had with both binoculars under well-adapted dark conditions; specfically under a clear night sky with no Moon.

Dark Sky Performace Compared

Donning some dark sunglasses I sat out in a deck chair for about 25 minutes after leaving a bright indoor environment to accelerate dark-eye adaptation. By then I was sure that my eye pupils had dilated to their maximum extent and the process of rhodopsin biosynthesis was well under way. Examining the region centred on Orion’s belt stars, I immediately noted a very significant difference between the glasses; this time the clear winner was the 8x 42 Barr & Stroud binocular. It was easy to see that it was pulling in more numerous and fainter stars in Collinder 70 than the smaller 8 x 32. The same was true when I critically examined the Sword Handle of Orion, and in particular, the marvellous gaseous nebula of M42. The 8 x 42 was very much superior, indicating that my eyes were indeed gathering in more light( as they should do) owing to its larger exit pupil of the 8 x 42 binocular.

That said, the 8 x 32 was more comfortable to hold over prolonged periods(several minutes), owing to its much lower weight and transmitted a surprising amount of light; far more than any pocket glass (25mm aperture or less) I had recalled from memory, yielding quite impressive views of star fields and open clusters like the Auriga Messier trio, then very high overhead in the winter sky. The slower focus wheel on the Celestron was far less of a problem under these viewing conditions owing to the relatively tiny focus adjustments required when viewing astronomical targets, and especially when moving from the zenith to objects imaged nearer the horizon.

Overall Implications

The Barr & Sroud Savannah 8x 42(left) gets my winning vote over the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32(right).

So which instrument is more versatile? Unsurprisingly, this is a deeply personal choice and, as such, there are no absolute answers. If you don’t mind carrying around the extra weight, then the 8 x 42 would get my vote. I just love the way the instrument feels in my hands, its solid, Spartan construction, wonderfully sharp, super-wide field of view and spectacular bang for buck. The 8 x 42 is exceptionally easy on the eyes with its very comfortable 18mm eye relief(compared to the considerably tighter 15.6mm on the Celestron) and larger exit pupil, so pulling well ahead as an astronomical instrument, or when glassing under deep twilight conditions. It’s only significant downside over the 8 x 32 is its lack of dielectric coatings on the Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms, but it more than makes up for this with its fine optical quality and sturdy mechanical design. Indeed, the 8 x 42 Savannah remains this author’s personal favourite binocular!

But if weight is a big issue and you like to do all or nearly all of your glassing during daylight hours, then a high-quality 8 x 32 will certainly deliver the readies and thus deserve serious consideration.There are some other models in this binocular size class that are as good, if not better than the Celestron, and at prices that won’t leave you out in the cold; the Vortex Diamondback HD 8 x 32(with its famous ‘no questions asked’ VIP warranty), the Nikon Monarch 7( 8 x 30) and the Hawke Frontier X HD, immediately come to mind, all of which retail in the UK for between £200 and £300 and well worth checking out. If possible, you should try before you buy to avoid disappointment.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Neil English is the author of several books on telescopes and astronomical observing, but does not endorse bling. He is seriously considering writing a similar text dedicated to binoculars in the future.

PostScriptum: I intend to have my fully dilated eye pupil size measured on my next visit to my optician.

De Fideli.

Product Review: Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20.

To establish ‘Limes.’

Back in the summer of 2019, I got the opportunity to test out a very high quality Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42 owned by a fellow villager named Ian. A keen hunter, he uses this binocular to seek out red deer and estimate their distance using the built-in laser telemetry in the instrument. A few weeks ago, I bumped into Ian in the swing park near my home, where he was looking after his young grandaughter, and we struck up another conversation about binoculars. I was returning from one of my walks,  carrying along my little Zeiss Terra 8 x 25 pocket. He was fascinated with this new instrument, being duly impressed with its razor sharp optics, generous wide field, light-weight ergonomics and decent market value. It was then that I discovered that Ian was also the proud owner of a little Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20, which he purchased about two years back for casual sightseeing during his summer vacations in the Scottish northwest. Keen to expand my portfoIio of tested instruments, I asked him if he would be kind enough to let me borrow it  for a wee while to evaluate its optical and mechanical performance. He agreed, but did say that he found the Terra to be very comfortable to use and was even considering acquiring one in the future! Fast forward a couple of weeks and Ian dropped by the Leica binocular at my home so that I could begin some tests, the results of which, I will divulge in this blog.

Leica is a German optical firm that has established itself as a world-leading manufacturer of high-end cameras, microscopes, camera lenses, binoculars and spotting ‘scopes for the burgeoning sports optics market. Founded in 1869 by Ernst Leitz, at Wetzlar, Germany, where the original factory remained until 1986, after which time production was moved to the town of Solms to the west of Wetzlar.  In 1973, Leitz set up another large factory in  Portugal, where it has remained to this day. With 1800 employees, Leica has an annual turnover of the order of 400 million Euro, and continues to produce state-of-the art optical equipment for private and public institutions(mostly universities and hospitals) the world over.

The Leica Trinovid line of binoculars has a long history. Leica first began to manufacture high-quality binoculars back in 1907, but the Trinovid line first appeared in 1953. Over the years, Leica has continued to develop their Trinovids, adding new optical technologies to their products where, today, they utilize some of the best glass and optical coatings available.

First Impressions

The quality of the device was immediately apparent to me as I prized the 8 x 20 from its somehwat oversized, soft carry case. Weighing in at just 235g, the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 measures just 9cm long, 6cm wide and 3.5cm deep when folded up. This makes it one of the smallest and most portable binoculars in continuous production today.

The Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20(made in Portugal) folds up into a tiny storage unit just 9cm long and 6cm wide. Note the unusual location of the right eye dioptre setting, which is accessed by turning the objective lens housing.

The binocular has a very traditional dual-hinge system but maintains a very classic look and feel, with an aluminium frame. Unlike their larger binoculars, the BCAs are described as ‘splashproof’, meaning that they will work fine in rainy conditions but are not hermetically sealed or dry nitrogen purged like the majority of roof prism binoculars today. The all-metal chassis is overlaid by a tough rubber armouring, which greatly improves its grip during field use and affords greater protection against accidental bumping or knocking about.

The strong and durable rubber armouring overlaying the aluminium chassis of the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20.

The eyepieces are of exceptionally high quality, being made of metal overlaid by soft rubber cushions for comfortable viewing. They offer just two positions; fuly extended upwards for non-eyeglass wearers(including yours truly) or fully retracted when used with glasses. Eye relief is pretty tight though, at just 14mm, so some eyeglass wearers may struggle seeing the full field. The eyecups hold their position very well and can only be retracted by using considerable downward force. I must say that these are the finest eyepieces I have thus far experienced in my survey of the binocular market. Simply put, they are beautifully designed.

The beautifully designed eyepieces click rigidly into place.

Intriguingly, the dioptre setting(+/-3.5) is located on the right objective lens, which turns either clockwise or anti-clockwise. The focus wheel, which appears to be constructed of a hard plastic, is quite small but moves very smoothly with zero backlash. At first, it’s a bit fiddly to use but with a little practice becomes easier to negotiate, though it may present problems to those who wear gloves.  All in all, the binocular is a study in elegant design. Clearly it was created not only to look good but to feel good in active service.

The Trinovid BCA has a high-quality, somewhat elastic, neckstrap, which is affixed via clips, so can be disengaged from the binocular if so desired. It is comfortable to use. Yet again, an unusual but very nice touch.

The objective lenses are not very deeply recessed in this model, perhaps because its designers aimed to minimise the length of the instrument. Having more deeply recessed objectives serves a number of useful purposes though, including protection against rain and dust, and serving well as an effective barrier against peripheral glare.

The objective lenses on the Trinovid are not very deeply recessed.

Optical Testing

As is customary for me with the arrival of any new binocular for testing, I began by assessing its performance in suppressing stray artificial light, internal reflections and glare. This is easily done by sharply focusing on a bright internal light source – I use my iphone torch at its brightest setting – in a darkened room and sharply focus on the light. Such tests quickly revealed highly satisfactory results. Stray light was very well controlled and very clean, with only very minor internal reflections and no sign of diffused glare often encountered in lesser models. The main artefact was a reasonably pronounced diffraction spike. Indeed, using two small ‘control’ binoculars; my Zeiss Terra 8 x 25 pocket and my recently acquired Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 (both of which exhibit excellent performance in this regard), I judged the Leica 8 x 20 to be as good, if not a little better, than my controls. All of these binoculars employ full, broadband multi-coated optics on all glass surfaces, with prisms that are dielectrically coated for highly efficient light transmission. The results predict that the Leica will perform excellently when pointed at strongly backlit daylight scenes, bright street lights and bright terrestrial targets like the Moon. There is no such thing as absolute perfection though. Such a complex optical device will always betray some degree of imperfection under these very stringent tests. I guess, it just comes with the territory!

The high quality HDC coating makes for exceptional light transmission.

In good accord with my flashlight tests, pointing the little Trinovid at a bright sodium street light at night showed no internal reflections, glare and only a very faint diffraction spike that I didn’t find intrusive. These tests were followed up by daylight optical assessments. Looking at tree trunks and branches during bright afternoon conditions showed that this 8 x 20  has excellent optics with a good, wide field of view. The image is tack sharp with a very large sweet spot. There is only slight softening of the images in the outer 10 per cent of the field. Colours are true to form and I detected only the merest trace of chromatic aberration and then only by looking very hard for it(I honestly find this activity rather pointless) on difficult targets. Contrast is exceptional with excellent control of stray light, as judged by imaging targets nearby a setting Sun under hazy sky conditions. There is a normal level of veiling glare which can be removed by blocking the Sun with an outstretched hand. There is also some minor pincushion distortion at the edge of the field but I still judged this to be well above average.

Excellent coatings make the objectives almost disappear.

Some readers will be surprised to learn that Leica did not employ any ED elements in the objective lenses of their BCA binoculars, proving once again that such an addition is not at all necessary to create an excellent optic(the Swarovski CL pocket and larger sibling, the CL 8 x 30 Companion are yet other examples). What really matters are well figured glass elements with high-quality anti-reflection coatings. Looking up its specifications online showed that Leica has spared no expense applying their famous(patented) High Durable Coating (HDC). It purports to be abrasion-resistant with enhanced light transmission, and then there’s the solid P40 dielectric phase coating applied to the Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms. What results is a highly efficient light gathering optic; an especially important commodity for tiny binoculars like these.

The Trinovid certainly delivers optically when the light is good and strong. But it does have some issues which are important to address. Because of its very small size, it’s actually quite challenging to hold steady during field use. It’s small exit pupil (2.5mm) also makes it considerably more difficult to position one’s eyes correctly compared with slightly larger binoculars, such as a good 8 x 25( with a 3.125mm exit pupil). Comparing its ergonomics with my Zeiss Terra 8 x 25 pocket glass showed that the Terra was simply much easier to engage with even though it’s only about 30 per cent heavier(310g). It’s larger frame also gives it the edge in terms of acheiving a good, stable image. This could prove important if the owner intends to use the 8 x 20 BCA for prolonged glassing periods, as the extra effort incurred in accurately positioning one’s eyes over the small exit pupils may induce eye strain with some users, so I think it’s important that people seriously considering this tiny glass try the more popular 8 x 25 units out before making that all-important purchase. Indeed, I believe this point was not lost on Ian when he tried the Terra out in the swing park that afternoon.

In an ongoing blog on using my 8 x 25 binos, I gave mention to why I think good pocket binoculars are quite expensive in the scheme of things. I attributed this to the extra difficulty in accurately positioning the many optical components stably within a scaled-down structure. The Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 seems to follow this rule of thumb. It is smaller than any 8 x 25 model but is also more expensive(about £350 to £400 UK as opposed to £270 for the Zeiss Terra 8 x 25, for example). But there is surely folly in pursuing this to its logical conclusion. For example, would it be sensible to create an even smaller, state-of-the-art 15mm model say, that can fit on two fingers and cost £500?

Of course not! That would be daft. It would be too small and fiddly to use and the amount of light it would bring to one’s eyes- even if it were 100 per cent efficient – would severely limit its use. That’s probably why the other premium binocular manufacturers – particularly Zeiss and Swarovski – have discontinued their 8 x 20 models in favour of 8x and 10 x 25mm units. Indeed, all of this has close parallels to the premium, small refractor market, where folk seem to pay exorbitant prices for tiny, albeit perfect, optics. Is that really sensible? Not in my mind – which is why I turned my back on it- but your mileage may vary!

Assorted notes:

The Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 has ocular lenses just a little smaller than its objective lenses.

The instrument comes with a ten year warranty.

Each Leica binocular comes with a test certificate which claims that it was examined at various times during its manufacture prior to leaving the factory.

The Leica mini-binocular didn’t appear to come with caps, either for the objectives or eyepieces. It does just fit the small Opticron branded rainguard for compact binos however, which I use with my 8 x 25s.

It’s hard to find the ‘made in Portugal’ stamp on the Leica. But it is there, stealthily placed under the left barrel of the optic, and only accessed by fully extending the instrument’s IPD to its maximum where you’ll see: Made by Leica Portugal in good light.

The Opticron-branded rainguard I use for my 8x 25s just fits the smaller leica binocular.

More info on this package here.

Comparison with other Premium Pocket Binoculars

The Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20(left)versus with the Zeiss Terra 8 x 25(right). Note the latter’s larger frame and bigger focus wheel.

I spent a few hours comparing and contrasting the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 and the Leica BCA 8 x 20 during bright sunny conditions(for January) and again under dull overcast conditions, as well as looking for performance differences at dusk, when the light rapidly fails afer sunset.

Under bright sunny conditions there was not much difference between both binoculars in terms of optical performance(both are excellent in this regard), except that the Zeiss has a noticeably wider field of view(119m compared with 110m@1000m). Because of its larger frame, larger focus wheel and larger exit pupil, the Zeiss proved easier to handle and  easily rendered the more comfortable, immersive view. The weight difference between these instruments is only 75g, so I don’t think many folk would quibble about the increase in bulk mass.

Under dull overcast conditions, the Zeiss produced a slightly brighter image, which became more and more pronounced as the light began to fade after sunset(around 5pm local time in the last week in January). This ought not surprise anyone, as both binoculars are highly efficient light gatherers and so simple physics dictates that the larger 25mm glass wins.

Close focus on the Leica was estimated to be about 1.8 metres, significantly longer than the Zeiss Terra at 1.4 metres.

Comparison under the Stars

The differences between the 25mm glass and its 20mm counterpart was most pronouced when aimed at the night sky. The larger exit pupil and aperture on the Zeiss Terra pocket allowed me to see significantly fainter stars around Orion’s belt and in the Hyades, compared with the Leica. At first I judged the contrast to be slightly better in the Leica than in the Zeiss but upon reflection, I attribute this to the smaller exit pupil in the former, which naturally generates a darker sky hinterland. The wider field of view in the Zeiss also helps frame objects that little bit better than the Leica. So, for casual stargazing the Zeiss proved noticeably superior to the Leica 8 x 20. I would not really recommend the 8 x 20 for such activities over a larger glass. But neither should anyone expect miracles here. The Leica is designed for daylight use in the main, although one can always enjoy the odd look at the Moon with the 8 x 20 when it is present in the sky.

Comparisons to a Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 Compact Binocular

How does the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 compare with a good 8 x 32 compact binocular?

Comparing a mid-sized, semi-compact binocular like the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 with a diminutive 8 x 20 might seem a little out of place. But I think its inclusion is valid. The Trailseeker is very light; indeed, at just 453g, it ranks as one of the lightest 8 x 32s on the market, but still has many mechanical and optical features that only a few years ago were the preserve of premium binoculars; a magnesium alloy chassis, solid, well-designed metal-under rubberised adjustable eyecups, fully broadband multicoatings, dielectrically coated Bak-4 prisms et cetera.

Comparing the images served up by both the Celestron and the Leica in bright daylight in the open air, my wife and I both concluded that the Leica has slightly better contrast and sharpness across much of the field than the Celestron 8 x 32. With a small exit pupil of 2.5mm, the best part of your eye lens images the field. Edge of field performance is also significantly better in the Leica. But we also agreed that the Celestron was more comfortable to use, owing to its larger exit pupil (4mm). That said, we also reached the conclusion that the Celestron binocular rendered a slightly brighter image even in good light. But while there are perceptible differences between the two instruments, it must be stressed that these differences are small and subtle. Of course, that conclusion will likely upset a few of the more pestiferous premium bino junkies out there, but it is nonetheless true in our experience. The Celestron held its own very well indeed against the sensibly perfect Leica.

But there is considerably more to say about the economical Trailseeker. Move from the open air into a heavily canopied forest or copse and the advantages of the larger aperture binocular become much more apparent. Under these conditions, the Celestron fairs a lot better, delivering brighter images and more information to the eye. And as the light diminishes in the late afternoon, the Celestron clearly pulls ahead, as it ought to do, owing to its much greater light gathering power. At dusk, the differences between the two models are literally like night and day. Under these conditions, the 8 x 32 Trailseeker is vastly superior. It doesn’t matter if the optics in the Leica are sensibly perfect when you can’t see those details.

You see, the little Leica is like an elastic band – stretch it too far and it will break!

The same was true when pointing both binoculars at the night sky. After struggling to peer through the Leica, the Celestron was pure joy!  Its very efficient light transmission(~ 90 percent) and much wider field of view (7.8 degrees) brings so much more of the Universe to your eye!

These results helped us both to appreciate just how good the Chinese-made Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 really is. At roughly one third of the UK price(recently reduced to half its originanl market value(~£250) for clearance) of the Leica, we’d both say that it delivers 90 per cent of the bright, daytime performance of the Leica and vastly superior low light and night time performance. In many ways, this small and light-weight 8 x 32 is a more versatile performer than the 8 x 20 Leica Trinovid BCA, and those wishing to use their binoculars in more compromised lighting conditions would probably be better served with a good instrument in this size class.

And I have to ask this question again: is a weight of 453g really anathema to those who want to travel ultra-light?

nota bene: these comments regarding the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 are also applicable to the previous discussion of my Zeiss Terra pocket glasss, in case you’re wondering.

These tests affirmed the excellent bang-for-buck the Celestron Trailseeker really represents. Veteran binocular enthusiast and fellow author, Gary Seronik, is dead right in highlighting these recent trends: mass produced, Chinese-derived optics are now coming so awfully close to premium performance-both optically and mechanically – that I would have reservations shelling out much more of my hard-earned cash just to get slightly better optical performance and the right to brag! For these reasons, I’m very pleased with and have no plans to upgrade the 8 x 32 Celestron; it will remain as part of my binocular stable.

Conclusions

The Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20: lean, mean optical machine.

The Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 is a beautifully made pocket binocular that exudes elegance in both its solid mechanics and optics. It produces sensibly perfect images, rich in contrast and colour, whilst maintaining a very high degree of sharpness across the entire field. Perhaps uniquely, its advantages and disadvantages both pertain to its very small size.  Provided one knows its limitations though, it ought to provide its owners with many years of service as a high-quality, ultra-portable optical system that can be used for casual glassing at sports events, mountain climbing, hiking, birding, general sight-seeing and even some limited astronomical viewing.

I found my time with the little Leica binocular to be a particularly enriching experience. While it is expensive, it is certainly money well spent, especially if you plan to use it on a regular basis. Yet again, I know why Ian chose this little optical marvel. During the very long days of a Scottish summer, when the light is good and strong, I can imagine him enjoying this super light binocular for hours on end.

Highly recommended!

 

The author would like to extend his thanks to Ian for lending him the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 for this review.

Explore More:

Ken Rockwell’s Review of the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20

Best Binocular Review of the Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25

Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. He has ambitions to write a full-length book on binoculars in the future to help his fellow amateurs find genuine bargains and de-bunk myths promulgated by binocular gayponauts and con artists over the last few decades.

 

De Fideli.

For the Record.

Plotina: raising the bar for grab ‘n’ go astronomy.

 

2018 was not an unusual year here in Scotland, as astronomical observing and associated note-making are concerned.

Total number of nights where observations were made in 2018: 137

Percentage of nights available for observation in 2018: 37.5 per cent.

 

 

2019: I recorded 135 nights of clear or partially clear skies. This represents 36.9 per cent of nights available for observation.

These numbers continue to be in accord with the claims of several British historical observers; T. W. Webb, William F. Denning & Charles Grover.

For more details on this interesting topic, see my 2018 book: Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

 

De Fideli

Product Review: The Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32.

The Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 mid-size binocular.

Are you looking for a good quality mid-size binocular but don’t have £1000+ to spend on a Swarovski or a Leica or some such? Perhaps you’re looking for a nice Christmas gift for a loved one or a friend? Well, the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 binocular could well be all the instrument you need!

If you’ve been following my binocular blogs, you’ll know that I have had to follow a very steep learning curve in order to bring my readers genuinely good bargains. And while it is generally true that you get what you pay for, there are always products that surprise in very pleasant ways, and this little binocular is one such instrument!

Celestron is not a name you’d normally associate with a high-quality roof prism binocular, but their optical engineers have successfully designed a great product in their Trailseeker range. The Trailseekers all feature full broadband multicoatings on all optical surfaces. The BAK-4 Schmidt-Pechan prisms are both phase and dielectricly coated to increase light transmission to the order of 90+ per cent, making it as efficient as ultra-premium models costing many times more.

The binocular measures 4.8 inches wide and 4.8 inches deep, standing just 1.9″ high; so very compact and easy to store in a backpack or small carry case. The binocular can be easily mounted to a tripod or monocular for additional stability.

My flashlight tests carried out indoors, as well as those conducted out of doors on bright street lighting and strongly backlit scenes showed that this model has excellent stray light and glare control. Indeed, its baffling of stray light is up there with the very best binoculars I have had the pleasure of testing. I was literally blown away by how resilent this binocular is to the intrusion of stray light! What that means in practice is that you get very high contrast images, rich in detail that would impress most anyone who tries them out!

The Trailseeker has a very robust magnesium alloy chassis; a feature often only found on premium models.

The binocular has a very strong and robust magnesium alloy chassis that is often only offered in the most expensive brands. It is also remarkably lightweight, tipping the scales at just 454g(16 oz). The strong, lightweight alloy frame also means that it will withstand knocks and bumps better than other models having cheaper plastic or ploycarbonate housings. The optics are 0-ringed sealed and purged with dry nitrogen gas to prevent internal fogging during cold-weather applications and corrosion of any metal parts used inside the instrument. The chassis is finished in a thick, rubberised green armouring that has excellent grip and which protects the main body from the elements. The underside of the binocular has neat thumb indents that make gripping the instrument very intuitive.

The underside of the Trailseeker has neat thumb indents that make handling the instrument very easy and intuitive.

The eyecups are of very high quality. They are made from solid metal with a soft, rubberised finish that makes them very comfortable to observe through. The eyecups twist up with two stops and hold their positions very well indeed, with absolutely no play. The eyerelief is 15.6mm which is adequate for most eyeglass wearers. Close focus is about 6 feet and the field of view is a very generous 7.8 angular degrees(136m@1000m).The dioptre setting is located under the right ocular lens and has just the right amount of friction to keep it rigidly in place from day to day, and from week to week.

The focuser and ocular lenses of the 8 x 32 Celestron Trailseeker.

Optically, the 8 x 32 Trailseeker packs a very powerful whallop. The instrument arrived well collimated out of the box, as evidenced by the perfectly correlated left and right eye images of a chimney located about 150 yards in the distance. The images are razor sharp with a large central sweetspot, softening as you move toward the edge, just like any other binocular. Chromatic aberration is a total non issue(I think this issue in many good quality binos available today has more heat than light). I see a lot of amateurs making bold claims about how ED glass elements make the image ‘brighter’ but in reality, the brightness of the image in the best quality binoculars has little to do with ED glass and much more to do with the quality of the coatings(particularly those of the dielectric variety) employed on the roof prism. For example, I was quite taken aback when I tested this unit out in low light conditions during dusk, when they completely outperformed a very high quality 8 x 25 pocket binocular lavished with premium ED Schott glass and dielctric coated roof prisms. There was no magic though; the very efficient light gathering capabilities of the Trailseeker’s larger 32mm objectives stole the show; it was much brighter, no ifs or buts about it!

A Curious Aside: I wanted to get to the bottom of this somewhat ‘fishy’ claim regarding ED glass, you know; that it gives brighter images and all that, so I decided to investigate some products on line. I mean, I can see why a better focused image in an ED instrument would confer a very slight advantage over a standard achromatic unit with the same coatings, but certainly not to the extent some folk have claimed in the past. Well, I didn’t have to search long before I stumbled on a comapny, Hawke, who make a few models of 8 x 32s, and out of sheer dumb luck(not really), I was able to compare the specifications of their Endurance ED 8x 32 and their Fronier HDX 8 x 32. As you can see from the specs, the Endurance ED does indeed have ED glass, while the Fronteir HDX does not. However, it is the latter that sells for a higher retail price(£259 as opposed to £199)! The one significant difference between these models is that the Endurance ED does not have dielectric coatings on the prisms while the HDX model does. And as this chap confirms, the HDX delivers the brighter image!

So there you have it!

I will further investigate these claims in a later blog, God willing.

No’ bad ken?

NB: The author has no affiliation with any of the binoculars discussed in any of his blogs.

A good design feature: the deeply recessed (9mm) objectives are well protected from rain, dust and peripheral glare.

Although not my favourite size of binocular, the 8 x 32 format is great for birding and other nature studies. Its greater light grasp and generous field of view will enable the user to work under fading light more efficiently and for longer than any pocket glass. The central focuser is well made but was a little on the stiff side when I first acquired it. But with regular use, it has loosened up nicely to allow good, fast focusing on mobile targets like birds in flight, or scurrying squirrels racing up and down a tree trunk. Going from one end of the focus travel to the other involves turning the focus wheel through one and a half full revolutions.

The Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 has very high quality twist up eyecups which make viewing through them very comfortable and immersive.

The little Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 produces very nice images of the heavens. Looking at a rising full Moon in a frosty winter sky showed very sharp, contrasty images rich in detail, with virtually no stray light that was all too easily evident in a few lesser instruments I have tested. Moving to the edge of the field does reveal some lateral chromatic aberration and some image softening but it’s perfectly acceptable to my eye. What is more, some of these off-axis aberrations can be effectively focused out. Star fields are beautiful and sharp with a jet black sky background, and the Trailseeker has served up very impressive views of some showpiece deep sky targets such as the Pleiades, the Hyades, the Sword Handle of Orion, the Alpha Persei Association and the great spiral galaxy in Andromeda. Stars stay sharp and pinpointed across the majority of the field, with only the outer 20 per cent or so beginning to show some enlargement. That said, I found this imperfection to be very acceptable. Indeed, you would have to shell out many times the modest cost of this binocular (£126) to get anything better in this regard methinks!

Unlike many other high quality binoculars, the accesories that come with the Trailseeker are also of exceptional quality. You get a very nicely made carry case that fits the instrument perfectly(shown above). You also receive a very nicely padded neckstrap with a Celestron orange logo.  That said, I discovered a slight hitch when I attached the supplied neck strap; when I tried to fold it around the binocular to insert it inside the carry case, it proved very difficult and caused the case to bulge outward a bit more than my liking. In the end, I elected to attach a lighter but lower quality strap to the binocular as an interim measure. The instrument also comes with a good quality binocular harness, though I’ve not tried it out for size yet. In addition, the binocular comes with fully attachable rubber ocular and objective lens covers, a microfibre lens cleaning cloth, and a neat user manual in five modern languages. The package is protected by Celestron’s limited lifetime warranty.

The Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 package.

All in all, the Celestron Trailseeker is a most impressive piece of kit and it’s obvious that the company cut no serious corners in bringing these high quality instruments to market. I think it represents exceptional value for money in a market saturated by a string of  similarly priced, but lower quality offerings. Kudos to Celestron for making these instruments available at such an incredible price(they originally retailed for over £250 when first launched but are now widely discounted)!

Disclaimer: The instrument was purchased from Tring Astronomy Centre, the staff of which proved very professional and who insured a super fast delivery.

Additional Information:

Promotional Video on the Celestron Trailseeker Binocular Range.

BBR overview of the external features of the 10 x 32 Trailseeker Binocular.

Don’t just take my word for it: read what other purchasers have said about the Celestron Trailseekers.

BBR Review of the 10 x 32 Celestron TrailSeeker Binocular.

BBR Review of the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 42 Binocular.

 

Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy, including a 665 page history of visual astronomy: Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, favourably reviewed by several amateur and professional astronomers.

 

De Fideli.

Old vs New.

How does a classic Zeiss binocular square up to a modern roof prism binocular?

Unlike telescopes, which are mainly used by dedicated amateur astronomers, binoculars, for obvious reasons, are owned and used by a much broader cross section of the general population. When my students get to know me, they will inevitably have to endure my unbridled enthusiasm for optical devices of all kinds lol, and that includes binoculars. One of my mathematics students, Sandy, expressed an unusual interest in some of my instruments, and he further informed me that his parents, who run a small ferrying business at Balmaha, on the shores of nearby Loch Lomond, used several binoculars in their everyday work. My interest was further piqued when Sandy told me that his grandfather owned a big Zeiss binocular, which was inherited by his father and would eventually be passed on to him in the goodness of time. I asked Sandy whether he would be willing to bring the Zeiss binocular by so that I could have a look at it. After checking with his parents, Sandy agreed and kindly allowed me to use it for a week in order that I could assess it and give it a good clean. Naturally enough, I jumped at the opportunity!

The instrument, a Carl Zeiss Jenoptem 10 x 50W porro prism binocular, came in a lovely leather case; a far cry form anything made in this era.

The Zeiss Jenoptem 10x 50W complete with original leather carry case.

The instrument had no lens caps and so had accumulated quite a bit of grime on both the ocular and objective lenses over the years. The Jenoptem, which was manufactured in East Germany(DDR), featured a Zeiss multi-coating, which helped me to date it to after 1978, when the company apparently began to apply their anti-reflection coatings to all the lenses and prisms in the optical train. So my guess is that it was probably acquired in the early 1980s. I believe Zeiss Jena offered a higher quality porro 10 x 50 in the Decarem line around the same period, but I have not had the pleasure of testing one of these units out.

The Zeiss Jenoptem is multi-coated.

The instrument has a very Spartan look and feel about it. Weighing in at about 1 kilogram, the Jenoptem is built like a proverbial tank, with a central focusing wheel and right eye dioptre.Turning the nicely machined metal focusing wheel first clockwise, and then anti-clockwise, all the way through its trave,l showed that it was still in excellent working condition, with zero backlash and bumping that one usually encounters with cheaper porro prism binoculars.

As expected from Zeiss, the Jenoptem has a very well made focuser that moves with silky smoothness and with zero backlash.

To begin the cleaning process, I unscrewed the objective housings from the front of the binocular in order to get at the inside surface of the objective lenses, which had a significant amount of grime as well as a small amount of fungal growth. Using a good quality lens brush, I carefully removed much of the dust before using a microfibre lens cleaning cloth soaked in a little Baader Optical Wonder fluid. In just a few minutes I was able to remove the remaining grime on both the outer and inner surfaces of the binocular objectives, as well as the surfaces of the prisms in the rear module of the instrument. The ocular lenses were also given a good cleaning.

The objectives of the Zeiss Jenoptem can be accessed by uncrewing the front of the binocular from the prism and ocular housing.

I was able to verify that the prisms were indeed coated in the same way as the objectives, although I also discovered that the steel clips holding the prisms in place had rusted significantly over time. I did not attempt to clean the clips, as I judged that doing so might throw the instrument out of collimation.

Note the rusted steel clip holding one of the prisms in place, as well as the anti-reflection coating of the second prism(after cleaning).

The objectives on the Jenoptem after cleaning. Note the anti-reflection coatings.

Seen in broad daylight, I was able to verify that the lens coatings had not suffered much in the way of wearing, looking smooth and evenly applied, giving a bluish or purple cast, depending on the angle of view.

The appearance of the objectives in broad daylight after cleaning.

 

And the ocular lenses.

Optical tests:

After screwing the objective modules back into place, I was now ready to begin my optical tests of this older Zeiss binocular. I compared the views served up by this instrument with those garnered by my Barr & Stroud 10 x 50 Sierra roof prism binocular that I use almost exclusively for astronomical viewing. After setting the right eye dioptre on the Zeiss to suit my own eyes, I started with an iphone torch test to assess how the instruments fared in suppressing glare and internal reflections.

The Zeiss 10x 50W Jenoptem(right) and my Barr & Stroud 10x 50 Sierra roof prism binocular(left).

Because the Zeiss does not have the same close focus (~2m) performance as my Barr & Stroud, I had to place my iphone torch several metres away in my hallway in order to get the Zeiss to focus on its light. As usual, the torch was adjusted to its highest (read brightest) setting. Comparing the two in-focus images, I could see that the Zeiss fared considerably worse than the Barr & Stroud. Specifically, it picked up two fairly bright internal reflections, as well as quite a lot of contrast-robbing diffused light, which rendered the Zeiss image considerably less clean and contrasted in comparison to my control binocular. The difference was quite striking!

After dark, I aimed the binoculars at a bright sodium street lamp and again compared the images served up in both instruments. As expected, the Zeiss showed much more in the way of internal reflections, with a lot of diffused light that produced a fog-like veil around the street lamp. The Sierra 10 x 50 in comparison served up a much more ‘punchy’ image with much better control of internal reflections and far less of the foggy, diffused light evidenced in the Zeiss.

Next, I compared the Zeiss and the Barr & Stroud Sierra on a daylight test, examining a tree trunk in the swing park about 80 yards from my front door. Again, the difference between both instruments was striking! Although the image was very sharp in the Zeiss at the centre of the field, it was noticeably dimmer than the Sierra. That diffused light I picked up in the iphone torch test created a foggy veil that significantly reduced its contrast in comparison to the control binocular. I was also able to discern many more low contrast details in the Sierra owing to its ability to gather significantly more light than the older Zeiss. The colour cast presented by both binoculars was also noteworthy. The Zeiss threw up quite a strong yellowish colour cast  to the Sierra, which showed a much more neutral cast in comparison.

Examining the periphery of the same field also showed that the Sierra was exhibiting a larger depth of focus than the Zeiss, which was quite unexpected, as I had been given to understand that porro prism binoculars in general show more depth of focus than their roof prism counterparts. In addition, the Zeiss showed more distortion at the edges of the field than the control binocular.

The Zeiss Jenoptem has very tight eye relief, which I estimated to be just 10mm. The Barr & Stroud Sierra, in contrast, has much more generous eye relief in comparison- 17mm – making it significantly more suitable for eye glass wearers. Indeed, I found it difficult to image the entire field in the Zeiss, having to move my eyeball around to see the field stops.

In summary, these daylight tests clearly showed that the venerable Zeiss was no match optically for the Barr & Stroud 10 x 50 roof prism I had tested it against. The latter was simply in a different league to the former, no question about it!

Handling in the Field:

The Zeiss is rather big and clunky in my small hands and is more difficult to find that optimal position while viewing for extended periods. Weighing more than 200g more than the Sierra, it is also harder to hold steady. The significantly smaller frame of the Sierra roof prism binocular is much easier to negotiate, and is simply more comfortable to use. In addition, the Zeiss has no provision to mount it on a lightweight tripod or monopod, but the Sierra, like most other modern binoculars, does.

Astronomical tests:

Though the weather proved quite unsettled during the week that I tested the Zeiss, I did get a few opportunities to test it out on the night sky. Once again, I used my Barr & Stroud Sierra 10x 50 roof prism as a suitable control. My first target was a bright, waxing gibbous Moon fairly low in the southern sky. The Zeiss threw up more in the way of internal reflections than the Sierra. The colour cast of the lunar surface appeared more yellow in  the Zeiss compared with the cleaner images of the Sierra. As I expected from my iphone torch tests, the sky immediately arround the Moon was also brighter in the Zeiss, with noticeably lower contrast than the Sierra. Moving the Moon to the edge of the field also showed that the Zeiss threw up more distortions than the Sierra control binocular.

Turning to Vega high in the northwest after sunset produced good on-axis images in both binoculars, but when moved to the edge of the field, the Zeiss threw up that little bit more distortion than the Barr & Stroud Sierra. The same was true when I examined the Pleaides and the Hyades in Taurus.

Conclusions and Implications:

The Zeiss Jenoptem was a good binocular in its day but is clearly inferior in almost every sense to the Barr & Stroud roof binocular used in comparison. 40 years ago, the Zenoptem would have set the average factory worker a whole month’s salary to acquire new. In contrast, the Barr & Stroud Sierra can be had for between £100 and £120 in today’s market.  The value of waterproofing was made manifest in the observation of rusting of some of the metal internal components of the Zeiss. The Sierra, in contrast, is fully waterproof, o-ring sealed and purged with dry nitrogen gas to inhibit internal fogging and corrosion of any metallic components used in its construction.

Enormous advances in optical technology over the last four decades, particularly full broadband multi-coatings applied to all lens and prism surfaces, higher quality optical glass, as well as phase coated prisms on the roof binocular, collectively allow very efficient light transmissions to the eye. This is all the more remarkable since roof prism designs usually have many more optical components than their porro prism counterparts.

Better eregonomics in modern roof prism binoculars as well the employment of strong, low mass polycarbonate housings in their design make them lighter and easier to use than their porro prism counterparts from a generation ago. All of these add to the comfort of using them either during the day or at night when looking at the heavens.

I had a look on ebay to see what these old Jenoptems were being offered for. I found quite a few of them selling for between £150 and £200, so not the high prices demanded by other classic binoculars.

Like with all optical firms, time has marched on, with modern binoculars offering much better performance than earlier models.

This comparison test must have implications for many people who already own or use older binoculars and who have not compared them to modern incarnations. And that’s as true for Zeiss as with any other manufacturer. Indeed, I was quite shocked at how much better my first quality roof prism 8 x 42 roof prism binocular fared compared to an old 7x 50 porro I was gifted back in the early 1990s. Technology has well and truly marched on! And while I like classic instruments just as much as the next guy, I see little point in using any when even modest instruments created in the modern age are likely to perform better than similar instruments made a generation ago. It’s just a hard fact of life.

The technology of the past is certainly interesting but it would be daft to neglect the advances offered in the modern era.

 

I would like to extend my thanks to Sandy and his parents for allowing me to test drive these old binoculars. I will be advising him to use lens caps on the optics when not in use and have also provided a sachet of silica gel dessicant to minimise moisture-induced corrosion of the optic.

 

Neil English discusses all manner of classic telescope technology in his 650+ page historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy(Springer-Nature).

 

De Fideli.