In Search of a Good Pocket Binocular.

Far from the madding crowd.

August 30 2019

Pocket binoculars are a popular choice for many birders, hikers, ramblers and all-round nature lovers who want to get up-close and personal with God’s illustrious creation. If you have scenery like this right on your door step, trust me, you’ll be keen to take along some binoculars to enhance and extend what your eyes can see;

A pocket binocular usually has objective lenses less than 30mm in diameter and offer magnifications anywhere from 7x to 10x. They are small and in general fit inside a pocket, giving rise to their name. Like all other binoculars, pocket glasses come in a range of prices, starting from just a few tens of pounds right up to £1000, depending on the make and model. The cheapest models are to be generally avoided, as they often have very shoddy optics and/or mechanics, but things get very interesting once you move into the mid-priced market, where you can acquire decent optics and mechanics for prices anywhere from £70 up to a few hundred pounds. But is buying a pocket binocular from a reputable optics firm a sure way to get decent quality? I’m going to have to concede that the answer is “no.”

That’s based on my experiences mainly with two models from the well established companies: Bresser(Germany) and Kowa(Japan). Both models were acquired from amazon and possess similar optical specifications, the Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26mm and the Kowa SV 8 x 25mm DCF, which set me back £97.00 and £83.00, respectively. Both models are roof prism designs, have fully multi-coated optics and phase corrected prisms to maximise the amount of light that is transmitted to the eye, and to render colour-true images in bright daylight conditions.

The Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26mm was exciting to unpack, as it looked the bizz from the online images and the specifications promising “premium quality worthy of their prestigious lifetime warranty.” And when I opened up the case to have a look at the binocular, I must admit to being instantly impressed; here was a stylish looking instrument with a beautifully made, ‘Swarovski like’ open bridge design. The focuser was large and constructed from high quality metal. In operation, it was a joy to use, moving with silky smoothness, with no stiction when turned clockwise and anti-clockwise through its travel.

The Bresser Prisch 8 x 26 compact binocular.

All the accessories were of high quality, which included a padded next strap, an oversized nylon case, instruction manual, rubber objective and eyepiece covers, and a lens cleaning cloth.

The twist up eyecups are amongst the best I have encountered, clicking through a number of stages from fully retracted to fully extended.They hold their positions very well, even when significant pressure is applied to them. The dioptre setting is situated in a sensible place; just under the right barrel. It is stiff and once set in place it will not easily budge.

The beautifully designed twist up eyecups are amongst the best I have personally encountered with four positions. Here they are shown fully extended.

Handling this binocular was particularly pleasurable, as the open bridge design allows for firm gripping either with or without gloves, and can easily be focused using one or two hands. The binocular is lighter than it looks: ~ 290 grams

Firm grip: handling the Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26 binocular.

The Baader Pirsch 8 x 26 has outstanding mechanical quality.

The instrument comes with quality accessories, including a padded cary case and quality neck strap.

But mechanics are only half the story of any binocular. How did the optics fare?

Collimation was tested by mounting the binocular securely on a monopod that was firmly sandwiched in place between two planks of wood on my garden fence, and examining the fields of view presented by both barrels of the instrument. This showed that the binocular was indeed well collimated, certainly within factory tolerances. I had no trouble instantly merging the images once the optimum IPD was selected. Close focus was estimated at about 6.5 feet, in line with the stated specifications. So far so good.

The quoted eye relief for the Pirsch binocular is 15.6mm. That should have been plenty good for eye glass wearers. However, I found that only by pressing my glasses hard against my eyes could I observe the full field. It was not comfortable and so I think folk that have to use eye glasses when using this binocular will struggle.

Testing collimation of the Pirsch binocular. And yes, this wee instrument does have a tripod connecting thread!

True to the specifications, the binocular offers a fairly wide field of view. I measured it as about 6.6 degrees(in agreement with its stated FOV of 117m@1000m). Compared with an entry level test binocular with no phase coating(but with fully multicoated optics), the image was better corrected for seidel aberrations across the field of view, revealing noticeably less field curvature, pin cushion distortion and lateral colour than the entry level unit. On axis, no chromatic aberration could be seen at the edges of a nearby telephone pole as seen against a bright, overcast sky, while the control did show a little bit. And while the image looked good in many daylight scenes, it wasn’t long before I discovered that the binocular was not showing the contrast I had been enjoying with my wife’s Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25mm pocket binoculars. Looking into brightly backlit scenes revealed a potential problem with the Pirsch; there was some flaring and internal reflections coming through. So that caused me to investigate the matter further.

A cursory examination of the binocular review literature revealed something rather shocking to me. Very few reviewers had the presence of mind to investigate and report back on light leakage within the binocular, which can lead to very incomplete knowledge on how an instrument ought to behave under real-life situations. I consider it essential information for any savvy buyer, as it doesn’t matter how well a binocular is appointed with high-tech features if they can’t manage to adequately suppress stray light in the optical train. To me, this is Optics 101.

Fortunately, this is easily done by carrying out an indoor test using an iphone with its torch turned up to its maximum brightness and examining the in-focus images of how that light is delivered to the eye whilst looking though the binocular in a darkened room a few metres in the distance. You can also glean good information on how well a binocular will deliver by pointing the instrument at a bright street light or the full Moon(this is a considerably less severe test but an important one in any binocular assessment).

Well, the tests were very convicting. Not only was there many bright internal reflections but the Pirsch binocular seemed to be causing bright light sources to become diffused across the field of view, manifesting as a contrast-robbing, circular haze. And it was the same when I pointed the binocular at a bright sodium street light.  I had not seen such terrible control of stray light since the day I tested a very inexpensive Celestron Nature DX 8×25 unit several months back. Needless to say, I was not a happy bunny! Incidentally, even my entry-level control optic showed far less flaring and internal reflections than this purportedly “premium” instrument!

As another control for these tests, I employed my most excellent Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42, which shows remarkably little flare and diffusion of light under the same conditions. Indeed, as I already communicated in a previous blog, this superb instrument possesses the same level of glare and internal reflection control as a Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42 unit I recently subjected to the same tests. The reader will note however, that no roof prism binocular, no matter how well built it is, can completely eliminate such optical side effects.

My control binocular for flare and internal reflection testing; the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 wide angle, which delivers superbly contrasted images even in harsh lighting conditions.

A curious aside: I wonder will flare and internal reflection testing suddenly enjoy an upsurge on future binocular forums? Hmmm.

I suspect that many of these pocket binoculars are not tested for flaring and/or internal reflections because these small instruments are not recommended for night time use and so any problems they have in this regard might easily slip below the radar. I would check out your instrument to see how it fares in this regard.

For me, a binocular, no matter how small it is, should pass these tests. Remember, we’re not looking for perfection here. If you’re viewing a city scape at night or gazing at the Moon from time to time, your pocket binocular should have minimum light leak and scatter, so that it does not show up in ordinary use. Is that really too much to ask for?

I don’t think so!

Verdict: The Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26 possesses excellent mechanical features but its optics do not match its mechanics. Not recommended. Luckily I had registered the instrument with Bresser to enable the terms of the guarantee to be fulfilled.

So how did the Kowa SV 8 x 25 fare in comparison?

Here is what the company promised.

Well, the package I received came in a small box, containing the binoculars, instruction manual, carry strap and eyepiece caps but no objective covering caps. Unlike the Pirsch, the Kowa is double hinged, which enables you to fold the barrels under the bridge,. making it truly pocketable. You can get an idea of the transportable size difference of both the Pirsch and the Kowa by comparing the size of their carry cases;

The carrying cases for the Pirsch(right) and Kowa binocular(left).

My first impressions of the Kowa SV 8x 25mm binocular were favourable. It is small and rather cute looking. Kowa engineers deliberately designed the instrument to be very lightweight using modern materials. It has a very well armoured body with a tough, coarse- feeling rubberised exterior.

The Kowa SV 8x 25 is a well made binocular using modern materials to reduce the weight. Like the Pirsch, the dioptre setting ring is under the right barrel.

The eyecups twist up and down like the Pirsch  but appeared to have only two fixed settings; fully extended or retracted.  You can however, set the eycups at any position and they will hold their place.

The Kowa glass had what seemed to be immaculately applied anti-reflection coatings on the eye lenses and objectives, which almost disappear when examined head on. Kowa also apply a hydrophobic coating on the elements that allegedly repels water, oil etc, making cleaning the exterior optics that little bit easier.

The kowa ocular lenses have nice anti-reflection coatings. Note the smaller eye lenses on the instrument.

And here is what the objectives look like under inspection. Kowa engineers applied extra armouring around the nicely recessed objectives for added protection.

The objective lenses on the Kowa are nicely recessed and have immaculately applied anti-reflection coatings.

The focuser is made of a soft material that effortlessly moves clockwise and anti-clockwise. I found that it was smooth and very responsive in use, with little in the way of stiction.

A close-up of the Kowa focuser.

Like the Pirsch, the instrument is fully waterproof and is nitrogen purged. The optics are fully multi-coated and a phase coating applied to the Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms. But at this stage in the game, I had learned not to place my hope in an instrument based solely on these claims. I recalled the story of the little Celestron Nature DX which also advertised such advanced optical treatments, but failed miserably in field use.

Like the Pirsch, the Kowa barrels were well collimated and the field of view was found to be slightly smaller than the Pirsch, at just over 6 degrees. But when I began to assess the optics of the unit, I hit my first snag. The smaller eye lenses on the instrument made it very difficult for me to accurately position my eyes and I immediately noticed that I was frequently experiencing black outs as I moved from one daylight target to another. It did have better eye relief than the Pirsch though, allowing those who wear eyeglasses to use it fairly easily.

Worse still, I noticed that when I was observing with the Kowa in bright daylight conditions outdoors, I could see a faint ghosting in the field which would only vanish when I pressed my eyes tightly against the eyecups. The contrast was noticeably better in the Kowa images though, with excellent control of colour and seidel aberrations. But I was worried about the ghosting I saw, and so decided to perform my iphone torch test to see what was what.

Such testing revealed some problems. While the horrible diffused light I saw in the Pirsch was far better controlled(but nonetheless present), the test revealed a pretty bad case of on-axis flaring. My heart sunk as I contemplated the implications of the test. This would also show up in nightime test I told myself, and I waited until the evening to find out for sure.

Turning the unit on a bright sodium lamp all too easily revealed a pretty bad dose of on-axis flaring which ruined the image. And though internal reflections were much better controlled in the Kowa than in the Pirsch, the flaring on bright nocturnal lights was, quite frankly, very annoying and downright unnaceptable. And yet again, my entry-level control binocular fared better than the prestigious Kowa in the same tests.

I really hoped Kowa, a company which enjoys a strong reputation for precision, high-end  sport optics, would be able to deliver a binocular image without this degree of flaring, but  alas, it was not to be.

Visibly upset, I contacted Kowa UK to report the result. They quickly responded and apologised to me for the fault, explaining that this was a very ” unusual” finding.

Well maybe. But it didn’t stop me immediately packing up the instrument and its accessories and returning it to amazon. I received a full refund, but had no interest in  testing out a replacement unit. Once bitten twice shy.

Note added in proof: Control of light leakages bares little correlation to the price paid for these binoculars. For instance, my Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 and 10 x 50 roofs have a retail value of about £130 and £80, respectively, but have excellent control of stray light. If these did so well, why couldn’t the little pocket binoculars deliver?

Ich verstehe nicht.

Another pretender:

Same old same old: the Olympus 10 x 25 has the same optical design as the Kowa SV pocket binocular.

What about the Olympus 10 x 25 WPII?  I took a chance on this product also. Retailing for about £70, it offered all the same features as the Kowa binocular. Indeed it was almost a carbon copy of the Kowa, except for the magnification and focus wheel, but alas it also showed too much daylight glare when pointed at brightly backlit objects, so that went straight back to amazon as well. Though sharp in the middle of its relatively massive field(6.5 angular degrees), the Olympus binocular showed very distorted images in the outer 30 per cent of the same portal. So, not great, either.

An Old Reliable: It’s not all doom and gloom though. Compared with the three binoculars I had evaluated thus far in this blog, my wife’s Opticron LE Aspheric 8 x 25 pocket binocular is in a completely different league optically. With minimum flare, no blackouts and good control of internal reflections, the little classically styled Opticron is very well built and just works, time after time after time.

A classically styled pocket binocular that just works; the Opticron LE Aspheric 8 x 25.

Now a few years old, the Opticron LE Aspheric features multi-coated optics and silver- coated phase corrected prisms. Aspherical ocular lenses produce a very flat field that renders undistorted images right to the edge of the field. And though its field of view is a little restricted at 5.2 angular degrees, it’s a nice tidy portal with very well defined field stops.

The Opticron Aspheric LE has simple twist up eyecups for those who do not use eyeglasses while observing.

The eyecups have just two positions; up or down. With 21mm eye relief, the instrument is extremely comfortable to view through. The double-hinge design does allow the barrels to fold up to pocket size though;

Snug as a bug in a rug.

It has its own built in lanyard so there is no need to fiddle about attaching a neckstrap. The original Opticron Aspheric LE (with the green logo) is a bit on the urbane side though; it is not weatherproof and the outer armouring is smooth and non-texturised. But a few years back, Opticron gave this pocket binocular a bit of a makeover; the new Aspheric LE is waterproof and purged with dry nitrogen, making it that little bit more versatile than the first generation model. Eye relief is reduced to 16mm, which should still be plenty good for all users. It also has new eyecups and a  re-designed focuser. Details can be found here.

Nice big(17mm) eye lenses on the Opticron Aspheric LE make for highly immersive views.

The instrument is more expensive than the Pirsch and Kowa models though; ~£120. But that extra cost does buy you peace of mind, or so I’m led to believe.

I”m going to order up the new model to determine how consistent the quality is. I will report back in a wee while to tell you how I get on with it.

Watch this space!

September 10 2019: Well the new Opticron pocket binocular arrived safely today. So, what was in the goodie box?

The Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8 x 25 pocket binocular and its accessories.

The binocular was purchased from Tring Astronomy Centre, and I elected to have it shipped to me via expedited 24 hour delivery. The cost, including postage, came in at £120. Like everything else I have received from Tring in the past, the product arrived in perfect nick. It was double boxed, witth the package including the pocket binocular, an instruction manual, lens cleaning cloth, and warranty card, and a stylish padded carry case with the Opticron logo on the front. I even received a £75  wine voucher!

The New Opticron Aspheric LE is now water and fog proof.

Unlike the original model, the make and specifications on the new model are embossed on the upper bridge. The armouring is also slightly more texturised than the sleeky, first generation model.

The original model had plastic eyecups, but the newer incarnation has what appears to be a slightly more comfortable rubberised overcoat.

Using the Optricon Aspheric LE WP is child’s play; just twist up the eyecups and they click into place. There are no intermediate settings. If you wear glasses, leave the eyecups down.

I rather like the simplicity of the eyecups on this instrument. There are only two positions: fully extended or fully retracted. The 16mm eye relief is plenty good enough for eyeglass wearers(verified by my own tests).

The focus wheel is larger and a little easier to work with than the original model.That will make it easier to use with gloves on. I did find it to be a wee bit on the stiff side though, but I figure with more use, it will became easier to negotiate.

The newer Opticron Aspheric LE( right) has a slightly larger focusing wheel.

The ocular lenses are the same on both models; good and large and easy to engage with.

Both models have the same optics, including large ocular lens.

The neoprene carry case is very nicely made and fits the pocket binocular perfectly:

A very nicely fitting padded neoprene carry case will keep your optics safe while not in use.

Close up of the Opticron labelled padded case.

You can probably guess by now what I did first: yep, I performed my torch test to see how well stray light was being controlled inside the barrels. Well, it passed with flying colours; not perfect, but perfectly acceptable! Indeed, it was very similar to the results I obtained for the original model. Later, I performed a test on some sodium street lights and the results were very good. Only very slight ghosting and no annoying glare.

What a relief!

Conducting some observations during the day also delivered very pleasing results.The images are very bright, sharp and colour-pure, thanks to good quality glass, anti-reflection coatings and a silver mirror coating on the prisms. Like the original model, backlit scenes show excellent control of glare and certainly enough to satisfy the vast majority of users. The aspheric ocular lenses did a great job maintaining a very flat field nearly all the way to the field stop. Close focus was astonishing! I measured it at just 51 inches (~1.3m), so significantly less than the advertised 2 metres. A nice bonus!

Clearly the quality control on these instruments appears to be very good indeed.

Weighing in at just 291 grams, and with its double hinge design, folding it up and storing it in your pocket is a breeze. It’s nice to have a pocket binocular that does exactly what it says on the tin.

Alas, I was unable to perform my last test on the bright Moon owing to the presence of a weather system (the remnants of hurricane Dorian) passing over Scotland, but the results on stray ligt control gives me no cause to be concerned. It will pass the full Moon test with flying colours!

A quality pocket binocular in the palm of your hand!

A Curious Aside: Here’s a binocular review posted on September 11 2019.

Wow!

The reviewer even conducted tests for glare and flaring etc!

Shockeroonie!

Don’t take my word for it; look at some other reviews of the Opticron Aspheric LE pocket binoculars to better establish a consensus:

Calvin Jones, Irish author, birder and naturalist

Diane and Michael Porter’s Birding Binoculars

Feathersoptics review

 

Conclusions and Lessons Learned:

It is clear that good optical performance cannot be gleaned from checking the specifications of a pocket binocular. Claims of a product offering fully multicoated optics and phase corrected prisms etc count for nothing if they cannot suppress glare and internal reflections to an acceptable degree. In this blog I have sampled but a few models that fell short of my expectations. In the end, only the Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25 delivered the readies.

The best way to proceed with acquiring a pocket binocular is to test it out in person, if at all possible, before handing over your hard-earned cash. The reader should also be leary of any binocular review that does not mention or test for glare, flare and internal reflection. This is an essential feature that must be controlled if you are to derive the best performance out of your pocket optics.

Life’s too short to look through bad glass!

Opticron also manufacture a series of more expensive pocket binoculars in their BGAT PC Oasis series. These will also be a good bet, but you’ll have to cough up another £100 to acquire one. I may test one of these models out in the future.

I did consider a few ED models in my quest. For example, the Hawke Endurance ED 8x 25 has a wider field of view and retails for 20 per cent less than the Opticron(which has no ED glass), but is it as well built? And how do the optics fare? To be honest, I don’t know, as there wasn’t any discriminating reviews available for me to make a decision, but they might be worth a punt. I did contact Hawke asking them how well they suppress glare in their small pocket binocular and received a very quick reply. Here is a copy of my correspondence with the company:

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

Dear Sir/Madam
I am writing to inquire about glare suppression and internal reflections in your Hawke Endurance 8x and 10x 25mm pocket binoculars.
I have been testing a few brands and some show very annoying flare and/or ghosting when pointed at a bright street lamp or a bright Moon.
Will your products pass such tests?
I appreciate that no binocular can completely eliminate these but all I am asking for is no obvious ghosting when pointed at the moon or strongly backlit scenes in daylight.
Thanks in advance of your reply.
Sincerely
Neil English.

from: Hawke UK uk@hawkeoptics.com

Hello Neil,

Thanks for your email and interest in Hawke Optics. The internal components of our binoculars are treated to be as glare resistant as possible. We use a combination of matte finishes and ribbed surfaces to prevent a flat reflective surface. However, it will never be possible to completely eliminate reflections like you are talking about and so even with these countermeasures, our binoculars will show some white out when looking towards a bright light source.

Kind regards,

Alex Jenkinson

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

I wonder if any of you have tested the Hawke model? If so, I’d be very keen to hear from you. Failing that, I might just go ahead and purchase one to do a full review; warts and all.

I would also trust the optics in the Pentax AD bocket binocular, which also retails for about £100. But that’s not based on direct experience with this model, only an inference made from using two other binoculars from their line.

For a few hundred pounds more you can acquire excellent pocket binoculars from the ultra-premium end of the market from Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski. However, I don’t think you’ll notice any big optical differences between the Opticron and these though. The value lies more in their mechanics than anything else.

For me, I feel the Opticron delivers everything I could wish for in a pocket binocular; both mechanically and optically. It’s a quality product that will stand the test of time if looked after properly.

Well, I hope you found this blog to be informative.

Good luck with your quest to find a good pocket binocular!

 

Neil English’s newest title, The ShortTube 80: A User’s Guide, hits the bookshelves in early November 2019.

Post Scriptum: Shortly after local midnight on September 12 2019, I ventured outside to see if I could gain a glimpse of the bright and nearly full Moon, that had just past the meridian and about 17 degrees above the southerly horizon. I compared the Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26 to the Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8x 25. A brisk westerly breeze was blowing, quickly shifting the clouds over and then away from the Moon. During one such clear spell I pointed both instruments at its silvery white face and studied the images.

Result: The Pirsch showed annoying glare and some obvious internal reflections in the field. The glare also brightened the backround sky around the Moon, reducing contrast. However, the Opticron unit showed no visible internal reflections and only slight flaring when the Moon was placed just outside the field. The backround sky around the Moon was much darker to boot, showing clearly superior image quality to the “premium” Pirsch.

 

De Fideli.

Caveat Emptor!

As you may gather, I’ve taken a keen, active interest in testing out binoculars with an aim to providing my readers with good quality products that won’t break the bank. As part of that process, I needed a few entry-level models to compare and contrast them with other products purporting to provide better optical quality. In one transaction, I purchased an Eyeskey labelled 8 x 32 roof prism binocular on August 5 2019 from eBay. It was brand new and set me back £37.79, taking about two weeks to ship directly from China to my home in Scotland.

Here is a photo of what I received:

The Eyeskey Package.

Here is a close-up photo of the Eyeskey binocular; the reader will note the texturing of the armoring and distinctive tripod adaptor cover

The Eyeskey 8 x 32 roof prism binocular.

Here is what it looks like from the ocular end:

Note the plain 8 x 32 & Bak4 Prism labelling on the focus wheel.

And here is a photo of the tethered rubber objective lens covers as well as the thumb indentations on the underside of the binocular:

Note the tethered rubber objective covers and thumb indentations on the Eyeskey.

After inspecting the Eyeskey binocular and its accessories, I recalled another binocular, marketed by a company called Avalonoptics.co.uk, which I had come across in a previous internet search.

Here is Avalon’s 8 x 32 Mini HD binoculars( all images taken from their website):

Avalon 8×32 Mini HD Binoculars BLACK

Here is an image of the entire package:

Here is an image of the writing on the focusing wheel:

Note the thumb indentations on the under side of the barrels on the Avalon:

And here is an image of the tethered objective covers on the Avalon:

 

Next, I took a look at the specifications of both models.

You can view the Avalon specs here

And here are the Eyskey specs( source eBay):

8561-8X32_01

Both claim to be fully multicoated, are nitogen filled and fog proof, but there is no mention of a phase coating on either model.

There is a few differences in the quoted specifications. The advertised field of view is 6.78 degrees for the Eyeskey and 6.9 degrees for the Avalon model; quite close. Eye relief is quoted as 18mm for the Eyeskey and 15mm for the Avalon, but these figures can often be incorrect or at least misleading(as I will explain in another up-and-coming binocular review). The Eyeskey has an advertised weight of 18.3 oz = 519 grams, whereas the Avalon has a quoted weight of 416 grams.

Weight can also be misleading though, as it can vary according to whether you include the lens covers and strap etc.

The boxes look pretty similar with just different logos on them, same goes for the neck strap and generic instruction sheet.

Now for the price comparison:

Eyeskey 8 x 32: £37.79

Avalon 8 x 32 Mini HD: £119(recently discounted 20% from £149)

Finally, have a look at this youtube presentation of the said Avalon Mini HD binocular here.

Is the Eyskey 8 x 32 model worth the £37.79?

I suppose for what you get it’s a bargain.

But what about the Avalon?

I’ll leave that up to you to decide!

Caveat Emptor!

 

Neil English debunks many telescopic myths in his new historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

 

De Fideli.

 

The Field of Glory.

Companion under the stars: the Pentax PCF 20 x 60 binocular.

Preamble

Visual astronomy can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. We can use the eyes our Creator designed for us to marvel at the beauty of the night sky. Or we can employ a telescope to get those up-close views, where both resolving and light gathering power are needed to make sense of what we see. But there is also the binocular perspective, which fills a niche set midway between that of the eye and that of the telescope.

On the night of August 25 2019, I found myself doing all three. After an hour of admiring dim and hard to find deep sky objects using my largest telescope; a 12″ f/5 Newtonian reflector, I sat back in my observing chair to drink up the naked eye heavens above me. The air was still, with no wind, and only the occasional screech of a barn owl breaking the silence. After a few months of twilit skies with only the brightest stellar luminaries on display, true darkness had now returned to the landscape. By 11:30pm local time, the bright constellations of Cygnus, Lyra, Hercules and Aquila had passed into the western hemisphere, with Bootes now sinking perilously close to the western horizon. And over in the northeast, Cassiopeia, Perseus and Auriga were making excellent progress climbing ever higher in the sky.  Andromeda and Pegasus were also ripe for exploration. The familiar asterism of the Plough hung low over the northern horizon, far below the North Star, Polaris, around which the great dome of the sky wheels. With no Moon in the sky, and good transparency, the river of light from the northern Milky Way stood out boldly, snaking its way across the heavens from east to west. It was the perfect opportunity to break out my big binocular, a Pentax DCF 20 x 60 and boy did it deliver the readies!

Using a monopod for big binocular astronomy on the go.

As I described at great length in the preamble linked to at the beginning of this blog, the Pentax DCF 20 x 60 combines excellent optics with great mechanical features in a relatively light weight package; ideal for use with a monopod. The instrument attaches in seconds to a strong, high-quality ball and socket mount head and can be transported easily from one place to another. Delivering a pristine, flat field some 2.2 degrees wide, the Pentax had already delivered gorgeous views of the heavens during Winter and Spring evenings, but I had not yet had an opportunity to sample the skies of late Summer/early Autumn with this powerful optical instrument.

My first target was M13, easily found about one third of the way from Eta Herculis to Zeta Herculis in the western edge of the famous Keystone asterism. I had already admired this big and bright globular cluster earlier in the 12″ telescope at high power. The 20 x 60 binocular revealed a bright fuzzy bauble about half the size of the full Moon and neatly sandwiched between two 7th magnitude field stars. Of course, the binocular could not compete with the majesty of such a cluster as presented in a large, light bucket, but it was nonetheless a lovely sight with wonderful contrast against a jet black sky.

I then moved over to Lyra and centered the bright summer luminary, Vega, shining with its intense blue-white hue across the sea of interstellar space, and surrounding it a swarm of fainter suns, including the famous Epsilon Lyrae of double star fame. Moving into Cygnus, I turned the binocular on Beta Cygni, known more commonly as Albireo. With a steady hand, I could easily resolve the beautiful, wide colour contrast double star; marmalade orange and blue-green secondary. Panning about eight degrees due south of Albireo the binocular field soon captured that remarkable little asterism that is the Coathanger (Collinder 339). What makes this a particualrly engaging visual sight is the uniformity of the stars comprising it; most shining with a soft white hue and of the sixth magnitude of glory.

Moving about five degrees to the east of the Coathanger, and forming a neat little right-angled triangle with the stars of Saggita, the celestial Arrow, I chanced upon the large and bright planetary nebula, known commonly as the Dumbbell (Messier 27). Unlike other planetary nebula, M27 is one of the few that present clearly in the relatively low power view of the binocular. Try as I might though, I could not see the hourglass shape of the nebula as seen in telescopes at higher power; it was more or less circular in form, softly glowing against the background sky at magntude 7.4.

I didn’t have to travel far for my next visual treat; M71, a faint globular cluster situated nearly exactly midway between Gamma and Zeta Saggitae. With its population of mostly 12th magnitude suns, M71 presented as a misty patch in a glittering hinterland of August star light.

Adjusting the ball & socket head of the monopod, I ventured back into Cgynus and centred the lovely binocular double,  commonly referred to as 0^1 Cygni. Like a wider version of Albireo, the 20 x 60 binocular presented their fetching colours perfectly, orange and turquoise (magnitude 3.8 and 4.8, resepctively). I could not however clearly resolve the fainter 7th magnitude component parked up against the orange member, which a small telescope so easily shows.

Eager to examine another stellar hinterland, I moved the binocular so that Deneb was centred in the field of view. Well, this binocular portal took my breath away! Hundreds of suns of varying degrees of glory smattered haphazardly across the field, and here and there the excellent contrast of the instrument also showed up some small nebulous patches set adrift among the starry hosts. With its very generous 21mm of eye relief, the big binocular was delivering very comfortable and immersive views. It was almost as if I could reach out my hand and touch the heavens!

With midnight approaching, I noticed that the great square of Pegasus was clearing the rooftop of my house, and a little further to the east, Andromeda, the Chained Lady, had by now gained a decent altitude. Eagerly, I trained the binocular on a foggy patch clearly seen with the naked eye. I had arrived at the Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31). The lenticular shaped core was big and bright and beautifully contrasted against a sable sky, and with averted vision it was not hard to trace the spiral arms all the way to the edges of the field. Its fainter companions, M32 and M110, were also seen with a concentrated gaze, the former being easier to see and just a half an angular degree to the south of M31. M110 proved much more elusive though, being larger and fainter than M32 but nonetheless fairly easy to pick off about a degree away to the northwest of the main galaxy.

Moving into Cassiopeia, the binocular presented field after field of brilliant starlight with a wonderful variety of colours. Many faint open clusters came to life as I inched the binocular through its mid-section; NGC 457(otherwise known as the E.T. Cluster) was very engaging, especially the bright, 5th magnitude white super-giant star marking its southern border, and then on into the heart of M103, a compact little open cluster just to the northeast of blue-white Delta Cassiopeiae. My notes from a good few years back informed me that the cluster presented as unresolved in an inexpensive 15 x 70 binocular, but this instrument, with its significantly higher magnification, was just beginning to hint at some individual stars within the cluster. A comely quartet of stars flanking the southeastern corner of the Messier cluster made the scene especially engaging to study. Panning very slowly eastward through the constellation, roughly from Delta to Epsilon Cassiopeiae, my eyes picked up many faint open clusters, including NGC 44, 663, 559 and 637.

By about a quarter past midnight, Perseus had risen to a good height above the northeastern horizon, and I eagerly sought out the famous Double Cluster(Caldwell 14), easily located as a foggy patch to the naked eye roughly mid-way between Perseus and Cassiopeia. With great excitement, I moved in on my target, all the while bringing to mind the stunning views I had reported with this binocular last Winter. Wow! I wasn’t disaapointed. The entire field exploded with stars of various hues; white, blue-white, creamy yellow and sanguine, the two sumptuous open clusters beautifully resolved with curious fans of stars radiating outwards from their centres. Sharpness was extreme from edge to edge, with the stars presenting as tiny pinpoints. I believe that this 20 x 60 binocular renders these awesome natural spectacles as good as you’ll ever see them; the combination of decent light gathering power and magnification using both eyes is a match made in heaven! This was a pre-season teaser though. The Double Cluster will only increase in majesty, as it continues to climb higher in our skies over the next few months.

Moving to Algol, the Demon Star, I then navigated about 5 degrees west from it, where I was pleasantly surprised by how easily I was able to pick up another lovely open cluster, M34. The powerful double eye on the sky resolved a few dozen members, mostly 7th, 8th and 9th magnitude members sprawled across an area of sky roughly the size of the full Moon. Many fainter members, largely unsresolved by the instrument, gave the cluster a very lively, translucent appearance, a consequence I suppose of the inability of the binocular to cleanly resolve its faintest members, which go all the way down to magnitude 13. Sometimes, not seeing things clearly adds to the visual appeal of deep sky objects.

From there, I moved back to Alpha Persei and placed it at the upper edge of the field of view of the 20 x 60. Even though the binocular has a fairly restricted 2.2 degree true field, it was able to pick up a generous assortment of bright O-B stars at the heart of the moving cluster Melotte 20. It was a beautiful sight!

With the time fast approaching 12:30 am, I picked up the 20 x 60 astride its monopod and moved to the front of the house, where my gaze met with the Pleiades rising above the Fintry Hills to the east of my home. Though it was still at a fairly low altitude, the 20 x 60 produced a draw-jopping view of this celebrated open cluster, its orientation being rather lobsided compared with how it appears later in the autumn. Many of its fainter members were extinguished by virtue of its low altitude, but it was still a magnificent sight. Again I would concede that large binoculars produce the best views of the Pleiads. And it will get better, night by night, as Autumn turns to Winter.

With a waning crescent Moon not far away from rising, I retired from the field of glory with a head full of vivid memories. This was just the beginning though. God willing, it will show me even grander sights as the days continue to shorten through the autumnal equinox and onwards toward the December Solstice.

 

Neil English’s new book, The ShortTube 80, A User’s Guide, will soon be published by Springer-Nature.

 

 

De Fideli.

Exploring the Skies Over Rural Pembrokeshire.

Slova Beach, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

De omnibus dubitandum

 

Preamble

Results from Northwest, Central and Southwest Scotland

Results from Central Scotland

Results from Northwest England

Results from the Republic of Ireland

5″ f/12 refractor versus 130mm F/5 Newtonian Shootout

Investigating the Jet Stream

Llanrhian-Berea

Wales is a country of outstanding natural beauty, with deep valleys, high mountains and rolling hills. Its rugged coastline boasts many pristine(blue flag) beaches and pretty little towns that are a joy to visit and explore. Like Scotland, frequent weather systems move in from the Irish Sea, purging the air of particulates that create excellent transparency for remote daytime viewing and astronomical adventures when the Sun sinks beneath the horizon.

Newgale, Pembrokeshire.

We decided on Wales because my brother and his young family had moved there last year from northeast Scotland, where he settled in a large country house dating from the mid-19th century, situated on the outskirts of the small village of Letterston, some ten miles north of Haverfordwest and 6 miles inland from Fishguard, where you can catch a ferry across the open sea to Ireland. And besides, we’d never vacationed in Wales before, so we had no good excuse but to make that 400 mile journey south from our home in rural, central Scotland.

St. David’s Cathedral, a place of worship since the 6th century AD. From the City of St. David’s, Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales.

The house is situated on five acres of choice land, secluded on all sides by woody glades, and even sports a large fish pond fed by a couple of fresh streams meandering through the estate. The homestead is surrounded by beautifully tended lawns and flower gardens that thrive because of frequent rain showers which keep them lush and well watered. It is a very peaceful place, with little in the way of light pollution, save for the glow from Haverfordwest, which illumines the southern horizon. Higher up though, the night sky is truly glorious, where the summer Milky Way winds its way from Perseus in the northeast to Sagittarius in the south.

Lower Summerhill.

We arrived late on Monday July 29, after spending much of the day travelling. I was glad that night was rainy and overcast, as I was exhausted from the journey and in no mood to pull out a telescope. Besides, we were all eager to catch up with my brother and sister-in-law, and my boys stayed up well beyond their bed times nattering to their first cousins. The next night was overcast but remained dry.

But the next three evenings were clear.

The sojourner: Plotina, the author’s nifty 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector. The pond lies in the background.

I brought along my portable 130mm f/5 reflecting telescope, which had proven to be spectacularly successful in ‘scouting out’ good sights to view the heavens from. It had already travelled a few thousand miles all around Britan and Ireland, where I had tested the skies on a number of choice double stars to establish something of the seeing conditions across the British Isles, some of which are highlighted in the links provided above.

As I have communicated many times in the past, this little Newtonian had greatly exceeded my expectations. Sporting a high-quality 5.1″ primary mirror and an upgraded secondary, when cooled and collimated, had shown me arguably some of the best views I have ever experienced with any grab ‘n’ ‘scope. With its state-of-the-art reflective coatings and modest( 26.9 per cent) central obstruction, it has consistently delivered the readies in all weather conditions, from warm, muggy summer nights to freezing winter evenings. It has proven itself to be a first rate double star ‘scope, which, under the right conditions, renders beautiful, colour-pure images of the Creation. Three eyepieces attended the instrument in its foam-lined aluminium case; a 25mm Celestron X-Cel LX, delivering a power of 26x in a well corrected 2.3 degree true field. This is my favourite wide-field scanning ocular used with the 130mm, great for observing star clusters and large deep sky objects. For medium power work, I brought along my Parks Gold 7.5mm, a delightfully simple eyepiece with wonderful contrast. Coupled to a 3x Barlow it delivers a power of 260x, which is a good working magnification to use on a variety of closer doubles. For higher power work, I also took along my Meade 5.5mm Ultra Wide Angle(UWA), delivering a power of 118x in a true field of ~ 0.7 angular degrees, useful for close up observations of smaller deep sky objects. And when coupled to the 3x Barlow yields a power of 354x, great for ferreting out the most difficult pairs. Still, it must be mentioned that this instrument can handle 100x per inch of aperture, if push comes to shove.

Beach Gear

The only other instrument I took along with me was my Pentax 9 x 28mm DCF LV roof prism binocular. I figured I would get a lot of use out of this, as we planned to visit many places where they would come in handy. I had intended to bring by trusty 8 x 42 but these had to be sent away for repair/replacement. And although the small Pentax binocular was the perfect accompaniment by day, I regretted not bringing my 10 x 50 roofs. Indeed, I really ought to have brought along both instruments with me.

Conditions at the site:

Dusk, looking westward.

Being located so close to the coast, the evenings are often breezy from onshore winds, but by dusk, they usually abate, creating very tranquil conditions. What I also noticed was how quickly and heavy the dew is at this site; significantly more aggressive than at home. Indeed, my observing sessions were limited by dew, as the telescope has no fans or dew heaters to keep it at bay. And I had forgotten to take along my flexi dew shield, so unfortunately, it was always a race against time.

I encountered no midge flies while making observations; a God send! They’d eat you alive in Scotland!! What you can get here is horse flies though. Thankfully they left me alone throughout the vigils.

Session 1: July 31 2019

The first object to emerge from the dusk was mighty Jupiter, appearing ever more bright as the twilight gave way to proper darkness and a few degrees higher in the sky than it appears up in Scotland.. Beginning around 20:55UT, I charged the telescope with the 5.5mm Meade UWA yielding 118x, and turning it on the giant planet, I was greeted with a very nice image. All four Galilean satellites were visible, a couple to the east of the planet and a couple to its west. The planet itself was revealing some very fine details, several tan-coloured bands and bright zones. The north equatorial belt was very prominent but its southern counterpart showing visible disjointing. 118x was producing a nice image scale, plenty high enough to see fine detail but not so enlarged as to wash out the same details. It was nice to greet an old friend like this. Its lower altitude back home had often blurred these finer details so much that I had all but abandoned the planet during this current apparition, holding out for better conditions when the planet gains altitude in a few years from now.

Studying the giant planet for a few minutes also suggested to me that the seeing was going to be good for double star testing, and lo, it most certainly was!

21:03 UT: Epsilon Lyrae 1& 2; beautifully resolved into four components at 260x

21:06 UT: Epsilon Bootis; text book perfect rendition of this gorgeous colour-contrast double. Beautifully rendered at 260x

21:10UT: Delta Cygni; textbook perfect split of this system with its bright primary and faint secondary. Easy picking at 260x

21:15 UT: Finder scope had already dewed up, so I detached it from the ‘scope, capped up the main telescope and brought the finder indoors to let the condensation evaporate.

21:57 UT: Resumed observations of double stars, starting with Pi Aquilae, which was very easily split at 354x

21:29UT Lambda Cygni: a sub-arc second pair. Airy disks touching at 354x but not cleanly disjointed.

21:31UT: Mu Cygni, easy split at 260x

21:50UT I turned back to Jupiter and immediately noticed the Great Red Spot (GRS) near the eastern limb. Even finer planetary details were coming through now in the darkened sky. I decided to cap up the optics on the main ‘scope once again to ward off dew, removed the finder scope and brought it indoors. This would be a good opportunity to make a measurement of the current Central Meridian (CM) II longitude of the GRS.

I re-emerged from indoors at 22:20 UT, uncovered the 130mm’s optics and re-mounted the finderscope. Aiming once again at Jove, the GRS had moved considerably further west but was not yet at the central meridian. Over the next twenty minutes I watched carefully using the Meade 5.5mm UWA(118x) throughout and was finally satisfied that the GRS was on the CM II meridian at 22:41UT.

I had to wait until I returned home to turn this timing into a CM II longitude for the GRS. Downloading the latest edition of WinJupos freeware, I entered the longitude, latitude and time I estimated the spot was crossing the meridian( 22:41 UT). The software computed a value of 312.4 degrees:

WinJupos computation of the GRS transit across central meridian.

I then searched to find a reliable source that quoted the most up-to-date CM II longitude determination of the GRS and found this recent(as of June 5 2019) posting on the Sky & Telescope website. See here for interest. The source quoted a value of 308 degrees!

That’s very close to the measurement I made!

Cool or what?

No’ bad,………ken.

Yessiree, the 130mm is a fine planetary telescope, allowing me to make some pretty challenging measurements more or less routinely.

 

Vigil ended at 22:50UT owing to build up of dew on the telescope’s secondary mirror.

 

A Curious Aside: Oculus Historiae

 

Session 2: August 1 2019

The second night was, to all intents and purposes, a carbon copy of the night before; a windy early evening which gave way to tranquil conditions as sunset approached. Starting at dusk around 21:00 UT, I set the telescope up on its Vixen Porta II mount and lowered the tripod legs a little to enable the kids to get a decent look at the two bright planets that were quite prominently on display low in the south: Jupiter and, several degrees further east, majestic Saturn. Keeping the magnification at 118x, the telescope displayed crisp views of both worlds, but alas, no sign of the GRS. My boys had seen these worlds before, of course, but not their cousins.The twins(Luca & Amabelle) were gobsmacked with the sight of Saturn, in particular, through the telescope. It was the first time they had ever seen this world ‘live.’ They chuckled among themselves saying, ” it’s just like you see in a book!”

Spying Jupiter and Saturn through the 130mm Newtonian. From left to right: Luca, Amabelle, Oscar and Douglas.

Well maybe, but the instrument was able to cleary show the Cassini Division as well as some subtle banding on this giant world 880 million miles away! I judged the image to be very good considering its woefully low altitude.Like Jupiter, it promises to yield better views for us far-northern observers in the years ahead.

A little later, my sister-in-law, Rhiannon, came to have a look at the planets and some showpiece deep sky objects. She was amazed to discover that the instrument didn’t cost very much, even with all the modifications done to it.

Beginning at 21:15 UT,  I began my double star tests, in rapid succession, and using the same magnifications I had used the previous evening. And the results were exactly the same: very good seeing conditions, enabling high resolution double star work to be conducted.

I then took myself off to visit the Ring Nebula(M57) in Lyra, three bright globular clusters, M3 in Canes Venatici,  as well as M13 and M92 in Hercules. The good light grasp and resolving power provided very engaging views in these dark skies, which I had, by now, deemed very similar in quality to another site in Wigtown, southwest Scotland (and also near the coast!) The Whirlpool Galaxy(M51) looked great at 118x, as did M81 and M82, which were still fairly high up in the north.

I ended the telescopic vigil with quick looks at some easy multiple star gems including Mizar & Alcor, Gamma Delphini, Iota Cassiopeiae (with its 3 beautiful stellar members), Albireo and the lovely O^1 Cygni system.

The telescope had dewed up by 21:50UT, at which time it was packed up for another night.

At 22:45 UT, as every one else had retired for the night, I ventured out again with my 9 x 28 binocular, enjoying the river of starlight through the Milky Way. But what most excited me was the siight of Perseus, now set much higher in the northeastern sky. Aiming at Alpha Persei, I brought the binocular to my eyes to behold that beautiful, sprawling wonder that is Melotte 20. It’s a spectacular binocular sight, even wth this small instrument. I couldn’t help pining for something larger though, like my 8 x 42, or better still, my 10 x 50. But I suppose, we live and learn!

I retreated from the field of glory around local midnight, for we had much to do the following day.

Low tide at Solva.

Session 3: August 2 2019

Like the last two days, August 2 was warm and sunny, though today some high altitude cloud produced much more in the way of hazy conditions than on the previous days. And that haze remained into the evening and over night. As a result, transparency was much reduced to my chagrin, since I wanted to do a little bit more deep sky observing. But as any regular observer worth his or her salt will inform you, hazy conditions often portend a good, stable atmosphere. Even before commencing telescopic observations it was easy to see the conditions were excellent, with the stars twinkling even less than they had done on the previous nights.

At 21:20 UT I began with a quick look at Jupiter, now near its maximum altitude for this location, with the 130mm charged with a power of 118x. Some really fine details were showing up as the planet drifted across the field of view, proving once again that such an instrument is a good choice for observing the bright planets, especially in grab ‘n’ go mode.

At 21:30 UT, I commenced my double star observations, using the same magnifications as described on July 31, and, one by one, they all succumbed to the formidable resolving power of this telescope. Conditions this evening at this site were as good as I have seen elsewhere(Ant I); there was zero turbulence, the stars resolving to beautiful, hard Airy disks in every case. I also recorded a good split of the components of Lambda Cygni this evening, separated by 0.94″  at a power of 354x, though I would have liked to have had some additional magnifying power on this tough target( I have used 405x with this system in this telescope on many occasions).

This vigil was ended at 22:05 UT.

Conclusions: On three consecutive nights, the 130mm reflector served up excellent, high-power views of a selection of double stars, adding to my list of good places to observe from. Once again, the little Newtonian delivered the goods!

Do I attribute this to good fortune?

Sheer dumb luck?

Absolutely not!

It is the observer that creates opportunities. Diligence and determination are all that is required. The British Isles offers many places to do such work and is a far cry from the bad reputation our lands have garnered on more than a few internet forums.

Britain and Ireland are open for business and I would take any comments claiming the contrary with a large dose of scepticism.

Think tooth fairy, Yeti, Darwinian evolution…..you get my drift.

One thing is certain though; you’ll never know unless you get off your backside and do some real testing!

Memories from our trip back up north:

There were a few other nights where the skies were partially clear, allowing to me to make some short binocular tours. Indeed, the pattern was much the same as I have noted at a few other places in the UK and Ireland.

The picturesque esplanade at Aberystwyth.

We said our goodbyes to our hosts on Monday morning, August 5, when we set off northward. Our first port of call was Aberystwyth, a beautiful university town set on the coast. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, followed by a walk along its magnificent esplanade  and were sorely tempted to have a dip in the sea, but time was against us, as we had to make our way across the border into England, where we would spend a night in Liverpool.

The beach at Aberystwyth.

I’m not a fan of cities in general, but I had never visited Liverpool in all my years of living in the UK. The real reason for the visit was to do a tour of Anfield, the home ground of the 2019 Champion’s League winners, Liverpool F.C. My eldest son, Oscar, was in his element, being a die-hard Liverpool fan.

After booking into our hotel and having a bite to eat, we set off on a walk down to Liverpool docks in the late evening, taking in the amazing buildings that decorate the site,

One the amazing municipal buildings at Liverpool docklands.

Liverpool is also the ancestral home of the Beatles, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before we came across a reminder of the city’s most famous sons;

Larger than life bronze casts of the Beatles.

The city lies next to the Mersey estuary. On the evening we arrived, the tide was fully out at sunset, which made for a very pretty sight;

Sunset on the Mersey Estuary.

Taking an open-top bus around Liverpool, we learned a lot of historical information from the tour guide (speaking in broad Scouse) before being dropped off at Anfield. Countless bus loads of folk were making the pilgrimage to the home turf of one of England’s most successful football teams. I suppose for the faithful, it was like a visit to Mecca.

Anfield Stadium( August 6 2019).

The all-important silver ware.

Though we enjoyed many warm and sunny days in Wales, extending into our short trip to Liverpool, as we hit the mountains of northern England, sunshine gave way to torrential rain;

By bye to sunny skies.

Indeed, much of the rest of August brought very unsettled weather to Scotland, but at least the farmers were happy. Rumour has it that this was a record summer for growing grass and making hay! Unfortunately though, it also meant that our lawns, which were trimmed before we left, had to be cut down to size again upon our return.

Oh Bliss!

It was good to get away and spend some quality time with family. No doubt, I’ll be back again to sample its excellent skies with my little Newtonian reflector.

 

Neil English travels through four centuries of time to bring you many more inconvenient truths concerning the Newtonian reflector in his tome, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

 

De Fideli.

Test Driving the Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42 Binocular.

The Swarovski EL Range 8x 42 binocular.

For more than a generation Swarovski Optic has been supplying premium quality sports and nature optics to an international customer base. Beginning back in 1935 when Wilhelm Swarovski started manufacturing small 6 x 30 binoculars, his business expanded greatly during World War II and by 1949, Swarovski launched itself as a separate company, manufacturing very high quality binoculars, spotting ‘scopes and rifle sights at their large facility at Absam, Austria. Employing more than 800 employees, Swarovski has a turnover of in excess of 100 million Euro with 90 per cent of its revenue generated from exports.

Swarovski produce a very extensive range of premium quality binoculars for birders, hunters and nature enthusiasts, ranging from small pocket-sized instruments(8 x 25) right up to large 56mm aperture instruments for specialised, low light work.  Having recently re-kindled my interest in using binoculars, I have had the privilege of enjoying two Swarovskis, an older EL 8.5 x 42mm (owned by my coalman, Graham) and a first generation EL Range 10 x 42mm, owned by a neighbour of mine (Ian), both of whom are keen hunters. In this blog, I wish to discuss the latter instrument in some detail.

Introduced in 2011, the EL Range 10 x 42mm features top-notch optics and state-of-the art laser-based range-finding technology that enables the user to accurately estimate distance to any given distance between about 33 and 1500 yards with an error of just +/- 1 yard. In addition, its built-in inclinometer allows angular measurements up to 90 degrees, thereby covering every angle compensation you are likely to use (especially when hunting in mountainous regions). Powered by a CR2 lithium ion battery, up to 1000 measurements can be made before replacing it. The second generation of the EL Range series was introduced in 2015, which offers some improvements over the original, including faster estimation of distance.

Ian very kindly allowed me to borrow his first-generation EL Range 10 x 42 for a short spell. For my tests, I concentrated solely on the optical and mechanical performance of the instrument, which were conducted over the space of 24 hours between July 22 and 23 2019, which included indoor, bright daylight, dusk and night-time observations. For those of you who wish to learn more about its ranging capabilities, check out this link.

The Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42: optical and mechanical excellence.

Mechanical design: The EL Range 10 x 42 weighs in at about 32 ounces. This was surprising given the presence of two prominent arches placed on the underside of the instrument. These apparently increase the stability of the instrument when making hand-held distance estimates.

The underside of the EL Range 10 x 42 has raised arches to help stabilise the instrument while conducting distance measurements

The 10 x 42 Range has individually tunable eyepieces with the dioptre compensation is accessed by pushing up the ring at the base of each ocular. The twist up eyecups are a work of art, plain and simple. Beautifully made, they click up and down effortlessly and hold their positions even when considerable downward force is applied. They can also be unscrewed if they need to be replaced or to access the ocular lenses for cleaning.

The exceptionally well designed all-metal twist up eyecups are a joy to adjust with soft rubber  eye contacts to make viewing as comfortable as possible.

The focus wheel is also a joy to use. With very finely machined threads, focusing from nearby to far away objects is effortlessly achieved via its buttery smooth motions.

The beautifully designed large central focus wheel is buttery smooth with no stiction.

Like all other mid-sized binoculars by Swarovski, the instrument has an open bridge design which is very stable and easy to balance and the well-designed hinge allows for quick and easy adjustment for my optimum inter-pupillary distance. The optics are housed in magnesium barrels to reduce overall weight and are overlaid by a tough, protective rubber overcoat that is very easy to grip. The optics are hermetically sealed and nitrogen purged to prevent any internal fogging. The instrument is water resistant to depths of up to 13 feet.

Overall, I would rate the mechanics on this binocular to be of exceptionally high quality.

Optics: Just like its mechanical excellence, Swarovski spare no expense incorporating the very finest optics inside their binoculars, and by that I mean the highest quality optical glass(which includes extra-low dispersion components) and state-of-the-art anti-reflection coating technology. The prisms are of Bak-4 Schmidt-Pechan design, which require phase coating to optimise light transmission. Swarovski like to think of the entire optical system acting as one collective unit which they call “Swarovision.” The light transmission is 91%( a figure derived from their technical data).

The objective and ocular lenses immediately exposed to the air are also treated with a proprietary coating that repels water, oil and grease. They also will not fog up on cold days if one accidentally breathes on them.

The state-of-the-art anti-reflection coatings of Swarovski objectives. Note also the deeply recessed objectives which cuts down peripheral glare during field use.

After I had made adjustments to the dioptre settings for my own eyes, I excitedly began tests on the 10 x 42 during bright evening sunshine. Examining a range of targets including the top-most boughs of some nearby conifers, rooftops and the broad tree trunk of an old Horse Chestnut tree, I was most impressed at the crystal clear clarity of the images. Comparing these to my own Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 binocular, which gives a ‘warm’ tone, the Swarovski was more neutral toned in comparison and ever so slightly sharper to my eyes. But what most impressed me was that the image was also a little brighter than my 8 x 42! This became more apparent as the sun began to set and dusky twilight ensued.  If the Swarovski was transmitting 91 per cent of the light collected to the eye, the Savannah was probably transmitting something more like 85 per cent.

Comparing binocular views can be very enlightening. Top: the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42, bottom: the Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42 .

The field of view of the Swarovski is 6.4 degrees, the images being perfectly flat across the entire field thanks to specially designed field flatteners in the ocular lens assembly. This makes the field stop stand out that little bit more than in my 8 x 42 wide-angle Savannah (sporting an 8.2 degree true field). Examining the edge of a telephone pole some 30 yards in the distance revealed a sliver of chromatic aberration in the Savannah but I could discern none at all in the Swarovski.

Edge of field correction was also superior in the Swarovski. Where the Savannah clearly revealed some pin-cushion distortion at the extreme edge of the field, the Swarovski revealed little or none in comparison.

Going indoors for a while, waiting for the sky to get maximally dark, I conducted my iphone torch test to see how both instruments would compare in regards to their ability to suppress internal reflections. This is a severe test on any optic. I darken the room and turned my iphone torch on at maximum brightness. Then, viewing from a comfortable distance, I aimed both instruments at the light to see what was what. A while back, I had tested the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 (and the 10 x 50 Sierra made by the same firm) and noted how well they suppressed glare and internal reflections. To my delight, I found both the Swarovsji and the Savannah to reveal broadly similar results; both units very aggressively blocked annoying internal reflections! Note that this test is far more severe than pointing the instruments at a bright Moon. Indeed, some instruments(including some top of the range models) that passed the Moon test faired considerably worse in this more discriminating test.

Star testing and an encounter with a waning Gibbous Moon:

At this time during the summer, the twilight which dominates during late May, June and the first half of July begins to give way to significantly darker skies. So around local midnight, I ventured out again to test the binoculars on some starfields poking through some cloud banks that were beginning to break up as the night progressed. lying on my recliner, I aimed the binoculars on some star fields in Lyra and Cygnus. The view through both the Swarovski and the Savannah was excellent, with the former offering a flatter field from edge to edge. Contrast was excellent in the Swarovski as well, and the stars presented as tiny, sharp pinpoints. It also reached that little bit deeper than the Savannah as one would expect in comparing an 8x optic to a 10x optic of the same aperture. The Savannah, although possessing a wider field of view, also showed some distortion of the stellar images at the edge of the field.

At around 00:45 UT, a bright waning gibbous Moon was rising in the eastern sky and had gained enough altitude to see it from my back garden. Both instruments presented very pleasing views, but with the subtle differences in colour tone and image scale. The Savannah produced a warmer tone with a very slight yellowish tinge in comparison to the Swarovski, which was correspondingly cooler and a more neutral white appearance. The low altitude brought out the usual atmospheric refraction in both instruments. In the Savannah, a very slim sliver of blue was observed around the edges of the Moon, while in the Swarovski the same sliver was more yellow than blue. The greater magnification of the Swarovski was immediately apparent however, where it presented significantly more in the way of crater details than the lower power Savannah.

Before packing up, I enjoyed watching the fast moving clouds passing near and over the lunar image in both instruments, creating a wonderful dispaly of natural colour. It was good to get out and do some observing in a reasonably dark sky once again.

Now, I suppose you are wondering whether I would recommend the Swarovski to a prospective buyer, especially since I do not, in general, have a tendency to use or promote premium equipment. I’m going to say ” yes” with this one, for reasons I would like to outline here.

It boils down to how much you intend to use the instrument. For astronomical telescopes, most folk get to set up and use their gear maybe once or twice a week(if you’re especially keen)  for a few hours at the most, though I suspect that this is probably the exception rather than the rule. If you are a keen glasser however, you will likely use binoculars far more frequently and for long periods of time. The Swarovski is a beautifully made, precision instrument that will endure knocks, extremes of weather and much more besides. It comes with a very nice quality case and  carrying strap and the company stands behind many innovative accessories that will only add to your pleasurable experiences.  It will often be your only companion in the great outdoors. Without a doubt, a premium binocular like this will hardlly ever fail, so you are investing in a durable, high- quality instrument that will grow as your interests grow and diversify.

I can say all of this with absolute confidence. Why? Because within a couple of days of testing both instruments disaster struck with my Savannah.

If you recall, I bought the Savannah second hand from an ebay seller. It worked flawlessly even with continued use every day, for many months. I was intending to bring it along with me to southwest Wales for a family vacation, when the dioptre ring developed a fault. Although it still worked quite well, I found I had to turn it to the extreme end of its travel before getting a well focused binocular image! The failure upset me, but thank goodness, the story had a silver lining.

An Act of Generosity

I contacted Optical Vision Limited(OVL), the company that now owns Barr & Stroud, as well as other small players in the mid-priced binocular market. I explained the problem to them, at which point they asked if I could provide proof of purchase. I then explained to them that I actually bought it used and that I just assumed that the 10-year warranty was transferable to new owners. Unfortunately, OVL informed me that the warranty was not transferable. However, they were aware of my long-standing work for the astronomical community and kindly offered to honour the warranty. Well, the relief on my face was all too clear to everyone and I accepted their gracious offer. I dispatched the instrument by courier to their depot in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, just prior to setting out on our 400 mile journey to Pembrokeshire.

While we were in Wales, OVL contacted me to say that they would be sending me a new binocular to replace the old one and asked if I would choose a day for the courier to deliver the instrument. I arranged to have it delivered the day after our return home.

Sure enough, the new Savannah 8 x 42 arrived in perfect nick. Excitedly, I opened the box to find the brand-new instrument carefully packed inside. I had my new Savannah and it worked perfectly!

After a year of considerable grief in my professional career, something good finally happened!

 

Contentment.

Thank you so very much OVL!

What the experience taught me

I once purchased a pair of perfectly serviceable 10 x 50 binoculars for $30 at an electronics retailer. These binoculars showed that if you choose carefully, you can get good optics for relatively little money. So what do you get if you spend ten times as much? In terms of the actual view, not as much as you might expect. Yes, more expensive binoculars have better optics that will deliver more light to your eyes and sharper images, but the difference is not night and day. What the extra money does buy you is mechanical quality. Expensive binocuars can withstand the inevitable bumps  and knocks of everyday use without trouble, and having focusing mechanisms that are sure and precise.

Gary Seronik, Editor of Sky News and former Sky & Telescope columnist and author of over 200 articles under Binocular Highlights.

This quote from Seronik’s book, Binocular Highlights (2nd edition) is very true. In my case the Savannah binocular (mid-priced in the scheme of things) gives you about 90 per cent of the optical performance of the Swarovski. Yes, the latter is definitely the better instrument, but it is the mechanical design and not the optics where it especially excels. That said, I have become very fond of the Savannah, as it feels right in my hands, and punches well above its weight. I don’t know how the fault with the dioptre ring developed but what I can say is that I will be keeping a very close eye on it. And if any issues arise with it again, you’ll be the first to know!

Second time lucky: fingers crossed!

I am very grateful to Ian for allowing me to test the 10 x 42 EL Range. I now know why he spent so much money to acquire one!

 

Neil English’s new book, The ShortTube 80: A User’s Guide (267 pages) is now published.

 

 

 

De Fideli.

A Commentary on Two Biblical Paraphrases: ‘The Living Bible’ & ‘The Message.’

Two popular Biblical Paraphrases; the ‘Living Bible’ & ‘The Message.’

Therefore, I, the Lord God of Israel, declare that although I promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi could always be my priests, it is ridiculous to think that what you are doing can continue. I will honor only those who honor me, and I will despise those who despise me.

1 Samuel 2:30 (TLB).

 

We live in exceptionally enlightening times. Advances in scientific knowledge are now toppling Darwinism as an ideology which underpins much of the world views of secular humanism and has become the dominant ‘religion’ of the west. Influential characters like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet, Steven Pinker and Jerry Coyne have often quipped that Darwin enabled them to be “intellectually fulfilled atheists.” Now that Darwinism is emerging as an elaborate fraud, or an intolerant secular religion, wouldn’t it be more accurate to describe their plight as ‘scientifically deluded bufoonery?’

But it cuts deeper still, much deeper. Darwinism has informed large swathes of human knowledge beyond the basic biological sciences, including the ‘soft’ sciences of psychology and sociology, which in turn have inspired a whole raft of ‘mind-body-spirit’ books written by gurus who have taken advantage of a scientifically naieve readership. And, let us not forget that the same “monkey religion” has formed the basis of a panoply of New Age ideas under the broad umbrella of “Cosmic or Psychic Evolution.” What is more, pantheism, which is the foundation of many eastern religions, has also found Darwinism to be a natural bed fellow, not to mention a raft of UFO religions and all the rest of it. Even the scientific quest for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence – itself a religion in many ways – has failed miserably because of the acceptance of Darwinism among its brethern. Worse still, many Christian denominations have been bullied into accepting Darwinian evolution as a ‘scientific fact,’ and in so doing has forced some Christian and Jewish theologians to formulate the theological mumbo jumbo that is ‘theistic evolution’, where the Creator is reduced to being a bumbling idiot, blissfully unaware and even unable to know what sort of lifeforms would eventually emerge to seek Him out!

But that is not what a plain reading of Scripture teaches.

I walked away from Catholicism because of these(and other) sonorous developments, and I’m also aware that many so-called ‘reformed’ Protestant denominations are similarly deceived. Faced with these embarrassing developments, it’s no small wonder that traditional Christianity, that is, Biblically based Christianity,  remains a vibrant, intellectually robust and growing world movement that is now attracting more and more people back into its fold, because of its solid historicity, common-sense wisdom, as well as its strong correlation with objective truth.

For these reasons, there are compelling motivations to introduce the Biblical allegory to a new generation of people who have ultimately found their ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ spirituality to be, well, ‘ a few sandwiches short of a picnic,’ as the old adage goes, empty or meaningless, who have never heard the true Biblical message, nor properly considered its truth claims. This includes a huge body of so-called ‘nominal Christians’, who apparently believe that morals evolve too.

Yep, yes siree.

They’ll happily attend Church on Sunday, vote for abortion on Monday, gay marriage on Tuesday and proudly wave an LGBTQ rainbow flag in your face on Wednesday. Claiming to act in the name of ‘tolerance, peace and love,’ they’ve turned Jesus into ‘Swampy,’ a tree-hugging hippy, which is idolatory, blissfully unaware that what they are actually doing is inviting His wrath.

That’s what the Bible plainly teaches. Have you not read that God’s morals are unchanging? And just like living things, do you not understand that the statutes of the Living God (one of His Biblical titles) have not evolved either?

For I am the Lord—I do not change.

Malachi 3:6 (TLB)

In a reaction to these worrying global trends, there has been a proliferation of new Bible versions that have popped into existence over the last few decades, which have actively moved away from the terse and often archaic language of yesteryear, and which have gone to great lengths to keep its themes relevant to a 21st century audience, but without twisting its doctrines.

In this blog, I would like to briefly discuss two such versions; The Living Bible and The Message, both of which were written by Godly men, driven by an over-arching belief that the Judeo-Christian world view is not only true but can transform and enrich human life more than any other holy book or life philosophy.

The Living Bible(TLB) was first published in 1971 by Kenneth N. Taylor(1917-2005) by Tyndale House Publishers. It is a paraphrase of the Bible, based predominantly on the text of the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV). In his own words, Taylor explained his motivations for making this paraphrase:

The children were one of the chief inspirations for producing the Living Bible. Our family devotions were tough going because of the difficulty we had understanding the King James Version, which we were then using, or the Revised Standard Version, which we used later. All too often I would ask questions to be sure the children understood, and they would shrug their shoulders—they didn’t know what the passage was talking about. So I would explain it. I would paraphrase it for them and give them the thought. It suddenly occurred to me one afternoon that I should write out the reading for that evening thought by thought, rather than doing it on the spot during our devotional time. So I did, and read the chapter to the family that evening with exciting results—they knew the answers to all the questions I asked!

Taylor was not a Biblical scholar though, and so did not understand Hebrew or Greek. That being said, he did apparently submit earlier drafts of this work to a team of Biblical scholars prior to its publication. The TLB enjoyed enormous success, especially among the evangelical community, endorsed as it was by Dr. Billy Graha(who distributed copies  to folk during his famous Crusades) and other great Bible teachers of the late 20th century. Indeed, in 1972-3, the TLB was the best-selling title in America! Soon a Catholic version was produced, with an imprimatur by the Pontiff, John Paul II. By the mid-1990s, it is estimated that some 40 million copies had been sold, translated into 100 languages throughout the world. Clearly, there was an appetite for God’s word written simply and effectively for an adoring readership. It also formed the basis of a proper thought-for-thought translation of the Bible, called the New Living Translation(NLT), which I reviewed here. I am reliably informed that the NLT is one of the most popular Bible translations available in the English language today.

I suspect my own copy of the TLB is much like many other people; a lovely green soft-padded, hardback cover adorned with a Celtic Cross:

The iconic cover of the hard-backed TLB with its emblematic Celtic Cross.

The large print edition first appeared in 1979 and my own version was one from the 16th printing of 2014:

The easy-to-read large print double column layout of the TLB.

The language is simple and easy to understand, so even a child can assimilate it. Consider the well-loved Psalm 19:

Psalm 19

19 The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God. 3-4 Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world. The sun lives in the heavens where God placed it and moves out across the skies as radiant as a bridegroom[a] going to his wedding,* or as joyous as an athlete looking forward to a race! The sun crosses the heavens from end to end, and nothing can hide from its heat.

7-8 God’s laws are perfect. They protect us, make us wise, and give us joy and light. God’s laws are pure, eternal, just.[b] 10 They are more desirable than gold. They are sweeter than honey dripping from a honeycomb. 11 For they warn us away from harm and give success to those who obey them.

12 But how can I ever know what sins are lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. 13 And keep me from deliberate wrongs; help me to stop doing them. Only then can I be free of guilt and innocent of some great crime.

14 May my spoken words and unspoken thoughts be pleasing even to you, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.

 

As you can see, the TLB comes with some footnotes and cross-references, just like a regular reference Bible.

The problem with paraphrases is that they can import the author’s ideas concerning what a tract of Scripture means, which may add or detract from the intended meaning of the original Biblical authors. And that includes gravitating towards particular theological positions. For example, Taylor appears to entertain a pre-millenial point of view, that is, the prophesised millenium of blessedness as outlined in the Book of Revelation will occur immediately after Christ returns to Earth. This is quite clear from certain passages in the TLB. Consider this tract from Isaiah:

In the last days Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord will become the world’s greatest attraction,[a] and people from many lands will flow there to worship the Lord.

Isaiah 2:2 (TLB)

Comparing this to the NASB, a highly literal version of the Bible, we read:

Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established [a]as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.

Isaiah 2:2 (NASB).

Notice how Taylor included “Jerusalem” and “Temple” although these do not appear in the original Hebrew.

This is all well and good if the reader is entertaining a pre-millenial position but it might prove problematic to those who do not hold, or develop, other views.

Another issue is that errors creep in which can be a source of confusion to the reader. Consider this passage from the TLB from Romans;

These things that were written in the Scriptures so long ago are to teach us patience and to encourage us so that we will look forward expectantly to the time when God will conquer sin and death.

Romans 15:4 (TLB)

The problem here is that Christ’s death and resurrection had already done away with the deadly effects of sin, pedicated upon faith.

In other places, Taylor uses wordings that would alarm quite a few readers. For example,

You illegitimate bastard,[a] you!” they shouted. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out.

John 9:34

Highly literal Bibles render the same text in a less extreme way:

They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they [a]cast him out.

John 9:34(NKJV)

Some will find these renderings offensive. They don’t bother me however, as in a real life situation, in the heat of the moment, as it were, an angry mob would certainly not phrase it in the way the NKJV does! I see this as a case of the author adding realism to the narrative rather than deliberately setting out to annoy the reader.

So, how does The Message fair? The brainchild of the American pastor, Eugene H. Peterson, his motivations for writing a version of the Bible in contemporary English language are best explained in the preface to the work:

While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren’t feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat

As a qualified pastor, Peterson would have been reasonably familiar with the original Hebrew and Greek languages underpinning the Old and New testaments, respectively. Taking about a decade to compile, Peterson also subjected the work to the trained eyes of a small committee of Old and New Testament scholars, the names of whom are found in the introduction to the work.The Message first appeared in 2002 in its complete form.

Title page of ‘The Message.’

If the TLB is a loose paraphrase, then The Message is very loose in comparison. Consider this passage from Genesis 1:

1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

3-5 God spoke: “Light!”
        And light appeared.
    God saw that light was good
        and separated light from dark.
    God named the light Day,
        he named the dark Night.
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day One.

6-8 God spoke: “Sky! In the middle of the waters;
        separate water from water!”
    God made sky.
    He separated the water under sky
        from the water above sky.
    And there it was:
        he named sky the Heavens;
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day Two.

9-10 God spoke: “Separate!
        Water-beneath-Heaven, gather into one place;
    Land, appear!”
        And there it was.
    God named the land Earth.
        He named the pooled water Ocean.
    God saw that it was good.

11-13 God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow all varieties
        of seed-bearing plants,
    Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.”
        And there it was.
    Earth produced green seed-bearing plants,
        all varieties,
    And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
        God saw that it was good.
    It was evening, it was morning—
    Day Three.

14-15 God spoke: “Lights! Come out!
Shine in Heaven’s sky!
Separate Day from Night.
Mark seasons and days and years,
Lights in Heaven’s sky to give light to Earth.”
And there it was.

                                                                                                       Genesis 1:1-15

Or consider Psalm 23:4 in The Message;

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

Psalm 23:4(MSG)

Death Valley? Where? In California(just west o’ Vegas ken)? Whacky!

 

In other places, Peterson’s Message appears to water down the convicting words of Scripture. Consider 1 Corinthians chapter 6 in a good literal translation of the Bible;

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor [a]effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NASB)

 

Now take a look at what the Message has to say:

Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11(MSG)

It’s not quite as explicit is it? Indeed, it appears quite vague in comparison to the NASB wouldn’t you think? This is not meant to villify Peterson’s Message but only to highlight that with paraphrases you lose accuracy, specifics and the like.

So both the TLB and The Message, despite being quite brilliant in places, also create confusion here and there. That is why it is very important that you do not use such literature as your primary Bible. To establish doctrine, you need to stick close to the letter of the law, as it were. Both these paraphrases are good commentaries, nothing more, nothing less.

I do have a tendency to prefer the TLB overThe Message though. This is an entirely personal choice. My reasons for preferring the former over the latter stem from its slightly more conservative presentation of the Biblical narrative. There is a case for mantaining the historical setting of the Bible. It was written in a different age to our own. This doesn’t mean it no longer has value to us today; far from it, its moral values never change, but it is simply a fact that these stories were forged in antiquity and that is where they should stay- for the most part anyway. The Message, for me, is over done, reads too much like a novel, has no cross references or footnotes that one normally expects to see in a ‘real’ Bible. I don’t like Peterson’s use of the word ‘Master‘ to represent Jesus either. It makes Him out to be like some kind of Jedi Knight.  The Living Bible(TLB) is more conservative in many ways. For example, it uses the name Jehovah quite often to denote the Godhead. I like that name. And it’s entirely legitimate.

In the end though, the world is a better place because of these paraphrased overviews of the greatest story ever told. No doubt they will help bring people to Christ and that’s the most important thing of all.

Use them but don’t abuse them!

 

Neil English has written a 660 page historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, showing how extraordinary individuals often used ordinary equipment to glean new insights into the nature of the heavens.

 

De Fideli.

A Great Pocket Binocular: the Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28.

Excellent optical and mechanical quality in a compact size; the Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28. The instrument measures 117 x 115 x 44mm.

The compact binocular market presents a daunting challenge to the would-be buyer. There are just so many models to choose from. By compact, I mean a binocular that can fit in the palm of your hand and possess objective lenses less than 30mm in diameter. I purchased this instrument about eight months ago and have used it extensively on hill-walking trips and nature treks all around the beautiful, verdant landscape of rural and coastal Scotland. And they’ve even come in handy for watching sports events.

During the long and bright summer days, this pocket-sized binocular has excelled as a lightweight optical device to study the Creation at close range or from a distance. As any experienced binocular viewer will tell you, small aperture binoculars like these are all you need when light is abundant. That’s because the exit pupil of most folk’s eyes shrinks during daylight to 2 or 3mm and so using larger aperture instruments offer little in the way of advantage.

The Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28 offers very high-quality optics in a rugged field-friendly design. The objective; a triplet system arranged in two groups is fully multi-coated. The ocular lenses are a five element design(and fully multi-coated) and produce razor sharp images across the vast majority of the field.  The eyecups are of high-quality, rubber-over aluminium design that twist up, allowing the user to use them in any of four different configurations. The instrument sports very comfortable eye relief – 18mm – making them ideal for eye glass wearers.

The high quality twist-up eyecups are sturdy and offer excellent eye relief for all observers.

The eyecups hold their positions very well, even when unreasonable pressure is applied to them and only move when twisted.

The Pentax compact offers a true field of view of 5.6 degrees and a magnification of 9x. I’ve really come to appreciate this magnification, as it offers a real edge over 8x models, which bring finer details into sharp focus. 10x models start introducing too much shake which limits their use during extensive, hand-help outdoor applcations.

The ocular end of the Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28.

The unit is phase coated for bright, crisp imaging and is fully weather proof, being dry nitrogen filled to prevent internal fogging and corrosion. It is also water resistant, and tested at 1m depth for several minutes (JIS Class 6).

Glare and internal reflections are supressed to very satisfactory levels. One design feature to reduce flaring involves mounting the objectives a few millimetres (~5mm) in from the end of the objective barrels.

Recessed objective lenses are a clever way to reduce flaring during bright daylight viewing.

The superior optical design of the Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28 became more evident to me during poor lighting conditions, such as at dawn or dusk, or while viewing targets in a heavily forested location. Cheaper models, such as the Celestron Nature DX 8 x 25, quickly revealed its limitations during these demanding conditions, where the images became overly dim and harder to discern. No such problem with the Pentax unit, where its better coatings and supression of internal reflections made all the difference. And while larger binoculars in the 32 to 42mm aperture range are better for these low-light conditions, I’ve been quite impressed at just how well the Pentax stood up. The images are razor-sharp and colour free with a nice, neutral or ‘cool’ colour tone.

The dioptre setting( the texturised grey ring in the photos) on the Pentax is located immediately under the right-hand ocular lens and has proven to be very precise and largely immune to movement. Indeed, I have rarely felt the need to adjust it since the day the unit arrived here.

What I have especially come to appreciate about this model is the large focusing wheel, which offers very smooth and precise adjustments to focus. Many pocket binoculars have much smaller focusing wheels, making them that little bit more challenging to operate, especially when attempting to image targets moving from fairly close up to far away, or vice versa, like birds in flight, or while using gloves during cold weather conditions.

The large, smooth focusing wheel on the Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28.

Though not the lightest unit in its aperture class (365g), I have found them to be better suited than many lighter models, as the latter tend to be made more flimsily or are too small to fit securely in the hand during prolonged observations. You need a bit of inertia when using pocket binoculars at 9x, and for me, the Pentax provides the ‘Goldilocks’ size and weight to allow me to optimise my viewing experiences. The underside of the binocular has nice thumb indents for secure handling; a useful feature, in the hand.

Thumb indentations on the underside of the binocular make gripping the instrument that little bit easier.

While I  would never consider such a small binocular to be the ideal companion under the stars, I have enjoyed occasional quick looks of the celestial realm with this instrument. Gazing at the Moon is always a memorable experience, the main craters and mountain ranges being crisply defined and without the annoying internal reflections found in other models( the Nature DX was horrendous in this regard). Star fields are faithfully rendered, and provide pleasing images across its 5.6 degree angular field. Chromatic aberration is pretty much non existent as you’d expect from an instrument in this aperture class( indeed many of the so-called ultra premium models in this aperture class do not use ED glass).

The Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28 is fairly expensive, as pocket binoculars go (I actually bought mine in an ex-display sale with a one-year warranty), but I feel it was worth every penny. The peace of mind one gets when using a mechanically sound and optically excellent instrument such as this is definitely real and when one factors in the countless hours it has accompanied me on my long country walks, hikes, during vacations, and attending sports events(my boys are keen footballers, golfers and rugby players), it has already paid for itself many times over.

Since the introduction of the DCF LV range about a decade ago, Pentax has recently re-branded these models as the AD series (details here). I would heartily recommned this pocket binocular to anyone who is serious about making a life-time purchase. Its excellent optics and sturdy mechanical construction will give you years of hassle-free operation even in less than ideal observational conditions.

 

Dr. Neil English has recently re-kindled his interest in binoculars. His latest article, Paradigm Shifts(presenting the latest science against the existence of extraterrestrial life), will be published in Salvo Magazine Volume 50(Fall 2019).

 

 

De Fideli.

Chronicling the Golden Age Continued: A Biographical Sketch of Arthur Mee(1860-1926).

Arthur Mee with his 8.5 inch Calver Reflector at his Cardiff Observatory.

In this blog, I wish to present a biographical sketch of the noted Welsh amateur astronomer, Arthur Mee(1860-1926), who conducted first-rate observations of the Moon, Sun and planets with an 8.5 inch silver-on-glass Calver Newtonian reflector, and helped evangelise the Welsh public in astronomical knowledge during the late Victorian period.

 

Tune in soon to read the full details………………

 

De Fideli.

Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 Wide Angle Binocular: Specs & Independent Reviews.

The Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 wide angle: arguably the best bang for buck general purpose binocular in today’s market.

                                                                 Basic Specifications

Type: 8 x 42 mm roof prism

Field of View: 143m@1000m

Eye Relief: 18mm

Eyecups: solid, adjustable, twist up, two positions

Lens Coatings: Fully multi-coated(verified)

BAK4 Prism Phase Coating: Yes

Warranty: 10 years

Close Focus: 1.95m(verified)

Dioptre Compensation: +4 to -4

Focusing system: Central

Dimensions: 152x130x57mm

Weight: 819g

Carry Case: Clam shell type, solid construction

Carry Strap: High-quality padded starp, with B&S logo

Interpupillary Distance Range: 58-75mm

Waterproof: yes, immersion tested at 1.5m for 3 minutes.

Fog proof: yes, dry nitrogen gas filled and o-ring sealed.

Rubberised Ocular and Objective covers: yes

Price:~ £120(UK)

Last year, I wrote a review of the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 wide-angle binocular. There I stated that I was very impressed with the excellent optics and ergonomics of the instrument, which surpassed all my expectations, given its very modest price. Since then, I have conducted more testing of this instrument compared with a Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42 (borrowed from my coalman, an avid birder and hunter), where I found the views to be astonishingly similar (as he also verified!!), despite the enormous price differential between the models. These tests convinced me that, like telescopes, you can pay a great deal for brand bragging rights which made me openly question why some folk would fork out between £1000 and £2000 for an instrument that, for all intents and purposes, delivers identical views.

Here I wish to bring you a list of reviews of the Barr & Stroud 8 x42 Savannah from verified purchasers of the instrument, which I can wholeheartedly vouch for, based on my own, extensive field experience with the said instrument:

 

Very sturdy binoculars and rubber covered. Good image quality. Not too powerful where there is movement/shake with unsteady hands but powerful enough to bring images a lot closer and allow close focussing on a tree in the garden watching the wildlife. .At the weekend I saw a white vapour trail from an aircraft really high in the sky but when I looked at it through the binoculars I could make out the colour of the rear of the aircraft. Someone was piloting a single engine plane much lower than the passenger aircraft and could make out it was a middle aged gent pilotting it !! 8×42 are a good all rounder in my opinion and I would recommend these.

Graham Lynch ( January 2016)

 

I have always bought at the cheaper end of the market and have enjoyed bird watching but wanted to buy something that looked good and was the next step up and they didn’t disappoint
They come complete with sturdy case which has a hard shell to protect them, the bins are easy to use and crystal clear and very sharpe for viewing, the 10 year warranty is a nice touch
You can really tell these are proper made they feel sturdy and are going to last a long time
So in reflection I think these are great all round bins that will give you long service.

readanotherone(June 2014)

Read loads of reviews as I wanted an all round pair of binoculars to use when walking the dog and fishing etc when I’m away in the caravan. Ended up ordering these and I was not disappointed. They arrived the next day. They are so easy to use, smooth focus wheel, soft eye covers so I can leave my glasses on. Very sharp view. I can’t imagine why people would pay £1000’s for a pair apart from to say ” I own a pair of ………” for around £100 these are fantastic.

Cookie(January 2015)

 

Bought for viewing wildlife in Namibia. Wide angle, bright, well made, robust and N2 filled. You will not find a better buy. Whilst away I had plenty of opportunity to compare these with some other brands. These are very high quality – right up there with the best. The extra wide angle is nice.

Seashark(February 2014)

 

Bought these bins because I cannot justify the money for Swarovski. I am a photographer and carry bins and leave them lying around and generally abuse them. However, the quality of these bins is exceptional and I am really pleased with them – focus is great and very good in low light. Worth every penny.

Frank G (February 2014)

 

If you’re thinking of buying these Binoculars then don’t think about it just do it. For the money there is nothing to touch them. I am a wildlife skipper and tour guide specialising in White Tailed Eagles and have used these bins for about a year and they are perfect for spotting these well camouflaged birds with a lovely wide angle and very clear stable image. I did have a problem with the pair I ordered but the seller was very quick and efficient with sorting out the issue.

Andy Kulesza(May 2015)

 

Bought a pair of ‘used’ (as good as new) binoculars. Savannah 8 x 42 from Barr and Stroud. The image is extremely clear and accurate, this exceeded my expectation. The wide angle view is one of the finest for bird- and wildlife-watching. Construction is solid and more than adequate for sturdy outdoor use. The focusing is brilliant and very convenient with the adjustment-knobs in their ‘one-hand alignment’. Compliments for Barr and Stroud. I would recommend these binoculars to any-one, without hesitation.

Gerard Schiphorst(April 2013)

Optically superb, nicely balanced and a joy to handle, these are well made and feel like a quality product. Slightly let down by its mean-sized case which is too small to hold the binoculars without closing down the eyepieces each time and struggles to close with the strap attached – a bit of pain.

RPG(October 2014)

Bought these for an upcoming whale-watching cruise, really pleased with them. They feel nice and solid, but crucially the optics are great – bright image, wide angle and very little chromatic aberration. My friend has a pair of Minox HG 8×43 and we both agreed that the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8×42 have better optics, after doing a side-by-side comparison of the two.

Andrew Hart( March 2019)

Love them, bought for my Mum for Christmas but i will be purchasing another set for my self. Not too heavy, nice to handle, picture quality brilliant so clear, colours sharp, easy to adjust.

Gillian(January 2015)

These are just the nuts anyone wanting good clear images go for it.
Sometimes a wall support or similar is useful but can be hand held with not much problem.

Twe man(July 2015)

The finest binoculars I have ever used. The images are crystal clear with no blurring at any distance even when watching wildlife in flight.

stephen(July 2018)

excellent value and quality – good step up from previous 8×25 binos and much more substantial build quality

JRAC(July 2014)

 

Great binoculars for some one wearing glasses. Good and solid for the price.

smart(December 2014)

 

Great value for money, really pleased with the quality. No instructions in my box, after an email to the seller I received a link to a web page for instructions.
JW(March 2015)
Was advised these were good. I wasn’t disappointed, excellent binoculars came with smart case and well protected am very pleased with them
Annie(April 2013)
We bought a pair of Barr and Stroud 8×32 Sierra binoculars earlier in the year and were very impressed. On the basis of this we ordered a pair of the 8×42 Savannahs. These are another step up. Bright even in poor light and quite breathtaking at times. The only very minor negative is that they initially seem a little heavy. At the price they seem to be remarkable value.
Wauno(December 2011)
The upsides greatly outweigh the downsides of these binoculars, they produce a clear, bright image and are a joy to use. Downsides, well if I’m being fussy there’s nowhere for the neck strap of the binoculars to go when in the hard case, so it ends up being scrunched up which is a shame as it’s a nice strap. They’re also pretty heavy and the manual is a bit generic so it doesn’t specifically apply to this binocular, as such it can take a bit of working out (a bit disappointing for a premium brand and price). Other than that they’re very impressive indeed, as I said in the title I’m looking forward to plane/bird spotting with them in spring and taking them abroad with me.
Shuester( February 2014)
Purchased these glasses after researching various lines. My only gripe was the carrying strap coming away from the case on their first trip out. this was obviously a fault on the rivet that holds the strap to the case. I contacted Barr &stroud and they sent me a new case within a couple of days. The glasses themselves are excellent, just what I needed, very good quality, and have a good grip to them.
David Redshaw(July 2013)

Great quality for the price, beats optic that cost way more, thumbs up from me.

Buy if you want a very good binocular at a even greater price

Brian Steffen (February 2103)
The only reason I am not awarding this purchase 5 stars is because I never award anything 5 stars. That said, delivery was prompt, the binoculars arrived in pristine condition, and they suit my purpose well. I use them mainly to observe the birds and other wildlife in my garden and I also take them on country walks with me, again, to observe wildlife. I am no expert, but I am very happy with what I have. Well done, Barr and Stroud!
Ava(July 2013)

As others have said these are amazing Binoculars and quite possibly the best in their class.

On top of that however is the aftermarket customer service.

I bought these in 2013. Last month the diopter focus ring broke on it’s own. I emailed B&S’ parent company who deal with support and after sending them the purchase email for proof of purchase they told me to post the bino’s to them.

Today I got a package – not my repaired bino’s like I asked, but a brand new pair instead.

I am well chuffed right now. Turns out they have a 10 year guarantee and B&S honour it superbly.

Syrio(August 2016)
After a few evenings of on-line research, I purchased a pair of these and have not been disappointed. Great value and wonderful clarity of vision. Delighted with them and would recommend them. I didn’t realise how little – or how much you could pay for binos. I have used a pair of Swarovskis of similar magnification and these, for me, are as good. If there are differences, they may be slight and indiscernible – apart from the price difference.
If you are inclined to buy these, I would join with others who have commented favourably on them and would recommend them without hesitation.
They also come with a decent case, strap and a long term guarantee.
Amazon Customer(April 2017)
I have used these binoculars on safaris for the past year and are very impressed with them. The image quality and field of view is excellent even in low light conditions. In fact I had the chance to buy a reduced pair of Carl Zeiss ones, but after comparing both, there was no noticeable difference with the Barr & Stroud ones so kept them instead. They are easy to hold in one hand and the lens caps can be secured to the strap so you don’t lose them. For the money these are great binoculars and would not hesitate in recommending anyone buying.
Leeson(November 2015)
Average Amazon Rating: 4.8 out of 5.0 from 30 reviews.

Oh I do like to be beside the sea side……ken.

Well, I hope these testimonials have increased your buying confidence about this remarkable product. I can personally vouch for its extraordinary performance by day and by night. In a time when con artsts abound, you can get what you paid for and much more besides.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Dr. Neil English is the author of several hundred optics and astronomy related articles and is the author of several books in amateur telescope optics, history  and space science.

 

De Fideli.

The King James Bible in the 21st Century.

Some Bibles in the KJV tradition, from left to right: The Modern English Version(MEV), the Jubilee 2000 Bible, the New King James Version(NKJV) and the original King James Version(KJV).

O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth.

 Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people.

For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens.



                                                                                                                Psalm 96:1-5 (KJV)

For over four hundred years, the Authorised King James Version(KJV) of the Bible, arguably the finest work of English prose ever created, has filled the spiritual stomachs of milions of Christians across the English speaking world, through war and peace times, booms, recessions and depressions. When one thinks of a ‘Bible’ it is the KJV that most people bring to mind first. Its influence on western civilization, in particular, has been incalculable, inspiring literary genuises like William Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Seamus Heaney, T.S. Elliot, VS Naipaul, C.S. Lewis, Raymond Chandler and P.D. James to name but a few. The austere beauty of its composition found its way onto the lips of such eloquent speakers as Abraham Lincoln, John Wesely, Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Dr. Martin Luther King. And high above the Earth, the Apollo 8 astronauts recited the Book of Genesis during Christmas 1968, as they courageously plyed the seas of outer space on their way to the Moon.  Its lofty, passionate language was considered essential reading for any English-speaking man or woman wishing to acquire a well-rounded education. Over a billion(perhaps as many as 2 billion) copies of the distinguished Bible have made their way into homes, libraries, churches and hotels scattered throughout the face of the Earth.

In commissioning the new translation of the Bible in “ploughman’s English,” King James VI of Scotland (and the 1st of England), used it to help cement the crowns of both nations, uniting both Puritans and Anglicans under a common ecclesiastical heritage. Although much of the language of the KJV is now out-dated, with some word meanings having completely changed with the march of time, it is still cherished by an adoring legion of Bible readers from both the Protestant and Catholic traditions.

Because the English language is constantly evolving, scholars have endeavoured to up-date the KJV  so that it would appeal to a modern readership. In this blog, I wish to discuss a modest sampling of such efforts, including the New King James(NKJV), the Jubilee 2000 and the Modern English Version( MEV), all of which show great deferentiality to the Authorised Version, and formulated using much of the same underlying manuscript tradition.

But before embarking on an analysis of these newer Bibles, I would like to provide a few reasons why all Christians should read the KJV through at least once in their lives. Firstly, its language is unchanged since it was last updated in 1769 (the original 1611 version is almost unreadable in comparison) and so what you are reading now is what your forebears also read. There is no danger of it being altered or updated to conform with modern culture(which unfortunately has become a dangerous trend with some modern translations). It thus provides a timeline uniting previous generations to our own. Secondly, its poetic qualities are second to none. Created to be read out loud, its words resonate whenever a passage from it is recited. The Book of Psalms, in particular, is sublime when read from the KJV.

The KJV is also very precise (or literal), the original committee of translators being very careful to produce a translation which is faithful to the original tongues(Greek and Hebrew)  in which the Scriptures were formulated. That’s why so many older Biblical commentators used it so extensively.

The KJV appeals to the intellect. If you consider yourself educated and have never read the Authorised King James, you need to remedy this by spending some time with it. Countless proverbs and idioms we still use in contemporary conversation originated with the KJV. Consider some of these phrases, all of which originate in the Old Book:

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.

Choose life

Through a glass, darkly

A law unto himself

A drop in the bucket

God forbid

Holier than thou

Put the words in her mouth

The skin of my teeth

All things to all men

Bottomless pit

Pearls before swine

Scapegoat

Land of milk and honey

Suffer fools gladly

Sodomite

Eye for an eye

Fallen from grace

Blind leading the blind

Den of thieves

Phillistine

Eat, drink and be merry

Bottomless pit

At their wit’s end

In the twinkling of an eye

Better to give than to receive

Signs of the times

Woe is me

Born again

The powers that be

Out of the mouths of babes

The blind lead the blind

Let my people go

My brother’s keeper

Seek and ye shall find

 

The KJV is also a historic version of the Bible. If you want to better understand the works of such classic theologians as Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards and many from the Puritan tradition, such as Isaac Watts, William Williams, Augustus Toplady, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan and other great revivalists, you will understand their mindset better by familiarising yourself with the old King James.

Many of the hymns we sing at Christmas and Easter, and in our weekly worship on Sunday mornings at Church were written in the King James vernacular. It is also universal in scope, celebrating a very wide international usage across many denominational lines.

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An Aside: Read the Bible, any Bible: Jesus said “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). This freedom not only entails salvation but also the truth concerning what is going on all around us. The prophet Isaiah warned us 700 years before Christ;

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil (Isaiah 5: 20).

In this dark generation, where cultural Marxism is rapidly gaining a foothold in our societies, there is a moral role reversal taking place before our very eyes whereby we are now accepting of lifestyles and behaviours that were always deemed intrinscally depraved.

Then came Osmosis. Thence mass deception.

It’s so important in this wicked age to remain grounded in the truth!

Reading the Bible is arguably the best way to know and guard truth.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

                                                       Proverbs 3:5-6

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The Jubilee 2000 Bible(from the Scriptures of the Spanish Reformation)

The Jubilee 2000 Bible.

The Jubilee 2000 Bible was the brain child of the Hebrew scholar, Russell M. Stendal, who came across an old Spanish Bible, first translated from the original tongues by Casiodoro de Reina in 1569. The manuscripts available to de Reina were the same as those used by reformers who compiled the Authorised King James Version and so belong to the so-called Majority Texts(i.e. Textus Receptus). de Reina made use of earlier Spanish translations of both the New Testament(by Francisco de Enzinas) and Psalms (Juan Perez de Pineda). Stendal also had the presence of mind to compare his Spanish-to- English translation with the earliest translation work carried out by William Tyndale, who produced an English translation of large parts of the Bible as far back as the 1530s(for which he was burmed at the Stake).

Stendal’s translation is very respectful of the Authorised King James Version and in fact, conforms more closely to the KJV than any of the other versions mentioned above. For example, Stendal elected to keep the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ in this translation because, as he claims in the introduction, “serious doctrinal error can result from the consequences of changing Thee, Thou, or Thy to You or Your. This can cause scriptural promises or directives addressed to the individual to be mistakenly applied to a corporate group. Modern English is ambiguous in this regard and lacks the precision necessary to accurately render the true meaning of the original.”

I think Stendal has a point to make here. Consider, for example, the passage from the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, in which Jesus talks to Nicodemus(a Pharisee) about being born again. Here’s how the KJV renders it:

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

John 3:5-7(KJV)

Now, compare that to how the NKJV renders the same passage, without the archaic phraseology:

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

John 3:5-7(NKJV)

Notice that the archaic English distinguishes between ‘you’ singular (thee) and ‘you’ plural( Ye). Thus the reader of modern translations cannot as easily distinguish singular from plural. Here’s how the Jubilee 2000 presents the same passage:

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Unless a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again from above.

John 3:5-7(Jubilee 2000).

Personally, I have no problem with the modern renderings, as usually one can discern whether  a “you” is singular or plural from the context of the passage. I do however, like seeing “thee,” “thou” and “Ye,” as they are not in the least bit hard to get used to. After reading a chapter or two of Scripture, you will very quickly assimilate and appreciate them. Besides they have a certain quaintness that appeals to me.

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An Amusing Aside: In modern Scots, one will often hear “yous” referring to more than one person.

” Are yous away out tonight?”

Sticklers of course, would balk at the notion of using “yous” in any formal correspondence, but at least it does distinguish between singular and plural!

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The Jubilee 2000 translation also maintains many other archaic words found in the KJV such as “published” which means “announced,” “raiment” which is “clothing,” and “charity” which is love. But in many places, Stendal updates some words used in the KJV which are easily misunderstood in the modern vernacular. For example in Genesis 3:1 the Jubilee 2000 replaces “subtil” with “astute,” when referring to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. This generally works, but in one case where he maintains the word “study,” it can be a bit confusing. For example, consider 2 Timothy 2:15:

Study to show** thyself approved unto God, a workman that has nothing to be ashamed of, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15(Jubilee 2000)

** The KJV has the old English word, “shew” instead of “show.”

The trouble is “study” as it is written in this verse of Scripture does not mean “study” as we understand it today. It actually means something like “strive hard.” This passage is better rendered in good, literal versions of the modern Bible, like the NKJV:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV)

 

Stendal also outlines in the introduction that all important Hebrew or Greek words maintain the same meaning throughout the entire translation, which makes doctrinal matters very consistent and easy to understand.

Although the introductory pages of the Jubilee Bible are written in American English, I was pleasantly surprised by Stendal’s use of the original British English the KJV adopts. So, for example, instead of “Savior,” which you will see in many other translations, the Jubilee 2000 uses “Saviour.” This is a nice touch that other members of the KJV Bible family have not addressed to my knowledge.

The Jubilee corrects many of the obvious mistakes inherent to the KJV, such as changing the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” to “Thou shalt not murder” and the erroneous use of “Easter” in the Book of Acts to the correct term “Passover.” Intriguingly, Stendal chose to retain the mythical “Unicorn” in Palm 92 and 29 rather than “wild ox” used in other word-for-word translations.

Eventhough the Jubilee 2000 is very close to the Authorised King James Version, it is distinct enough to qualify as a sister text to the latter. For example, consider this passage from 2 Thessalonians first in the KJV:

For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:

Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,

And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

2 Thessalonians 2:7-11 (KJV)

Now consider the same passage in the Jubilee 2000:

For the mystery of iniquity is already working, except that he who dominates now will dominate until he is taken out of the way.

And then shall that Wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of his mouth and remove with the clarity of his coming:

 that wicked one, who shall come by the working of Satan with great power and signs and lying miracles,

and with all deception of iniquity working in those that perish because they did not receive the charity of the truth, to be saved.

Therefore, for this cause, God shall send the operation of error in them, that they should believe the lie;

2 Thessalonians 2:7-11(Jubilee 2000)

Note how the phrase “strong delusion” used in the KJV and many other highly literal translations is replaced by “the operation of error” in the Jubilee 2000.

Throughout the Jubilee 2000 translation, Stendal elected to use the term “saving health” instead of “salvation.” When this alternative rendering was first presented to me, I admit to being  more than a little surprised, but having thought about the term “saving health,” I have now come to appreciate this alternate rendering, as what else does ‘salvation’ from the Living God mean except preservation of health in a body otherwise destined to return to dust?

The Jubilee 2000 Bible I received has a nice synthetic leather (trutone) cover with a beautiful tree as an icon. It is a very plain, somewhat understated, presentation, which appeals to me, with unusual, light yellow-coloured pages. Another unusual feature of this Bible is the way in which it presents the individual chapters, which are denoted by the Book name and chapter number throughout:

The unusual rendering of the book and chapter numbers in the Jubilee 2000 Bible.

The Jubilee 2000 also has an extensive dictionary of Biblical terms at the back of the work, together with a solid concordance for furher study.

A page from the Bible dictionary of the Jubilee 2000.

A sample page from the Jubilee 2000 concordance.

Although I have read through about 50 per cent of the Jubilee 2000, I have been hard-pressed to find any errors, with the possible exception of Psalm 29:6, which has a rather odd phrasing in my copy:

Note the wording of Verse 6 of Psalm 29.

However, when I consulted the online Biblegateway Jubilee 2000 text, the wording appears to have been corrected:

“And He made them skip like calves; Lebanon and Sirion like the sons of the unicorns.”

Psalm 29:6 (Jubilee 2000)

Source here.

In summary, the Jubilee 2000 is a beautifully rendered sister text to the Authorised King James Version. It will only serve to enrich one’s knowledge of this universally lauded Bible and deserves to be part of the library of all those who love the rich tradition preserved in the KJV. Its only weakness, so far as I can see, is that it is a highly personalised interpretation of the Byzantine texts and does not appear to have been formed by a  committee, which increases the likelihood of doctrinal errors creeping in. As King Solomon of old perceived:

...in multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Proverbs 24:6

That said, I have not uncovered any such deviations, and I happen to think it is an excellent translation that is certainly easier to read than the original KJV, mostly because the archaic use of punctuation in the latter is updated in the Jubilee 2000, which is altogether sensible, making it that little bit easier to navigate.

The Modern English Version(MEV)

Title page of the MEV Bible.

The Modern English Version (MEV) is a translation of the Textus Receptus and the Jacob ben Hayyim edition of the MasoreticText, using the King James Version as the base manuscript. It is published by Passio, a division of Charisma Media Book Group and first appeared in 2014. Unlike the Jubilee 2000, the MEV language has been fully updated into clear, modern(American) English, but still maintains much of the cadence of the old KJV. Just like the KJV, the MEV was created using 47 Biblical scholars derived from a broad, inter-denominational Protestant background, just like the Authorized Version, the identities of whom are listed in the introductory pages of the Bible. As stated in the introduction, the MEV was inspired by US and British army chaplains who wanted their troops to “understand the KJV better,”  but it soon became apparent to them that this fresh translation would actually benefit “the entire English-speaking world.”

Just like the KJV, the introduction also has a dedication to the reigning monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Queen Elizabeth II;

Just like the dedication to King James I of England, the MEV also has a dedication to Queen Elizabeth II.

Each book of the Bible (66 in all) comes with an introduction which is useful for study and for placing a passage in the correct historical context:

Each of the books of the MEV Bible have an introduction for setiing historical context.

 

True to the Authorised Version, the MEV faithfully includes verses which are often omitted by many modern translations based on the older(minority or Alexandrian) manuscripts.

Consider, for example, 1 John 5:7

There are three who testify in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and the three are one.

1 John 5:7(MEV)

Or the case of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:

 As they went on their way, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” He answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Acts 8:36-37(MEV)

However, there are some passages that KJV diehards might be concerned over. Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians Chapter 1:

For to those who are perishing, the preaching of the cross is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18(MEV)

Notice the reference to ” being saved” rather than just “saved” as recorded in the KJV:

 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18(KJV)

I’ve heard some dreadful KJV onlyists (those who believe the Authorised King James Version is the only inspired Word of God) claim that changing “saved” to “being saved” represents some sort of demonic conspiracy to water down the truth of the Bible lol. However, on consulting my NASB reference Bible, I note that the original Greek can be translated either way.

Much ado about nothing?

I’d say so!

Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. And just like any good relationship, it ought to be continual, ongoing, new every morning. I relate more to “being saved” than just “saved,” as this entails an active participation, in harmony with the will of our Lord and Creator, Jesus Christ.

The MEV large print Bible edition comes with an excellent 132 page concordance for further study.

Only one error was noted. If you look at Isaiah 58:8 in the MEV it reads:

Then your light shall break forth as the morning,
    and your healing shall spring forth quickly,
and your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your reward.

                                                                           Isaiah 58:8(MEV)

The problem lies with the word “reward” in line 4. This should read  “rear guard.” There are about a half dozen other incidences in which the same term is correctly translated in the MEV as “rear guard” suggesting that it was a genuine translation error.

The MEV large print edition is available in a variety of different coloured faux leather covers, all smyth sewn and all possessing a single ribbon marker. This edition is also a redletter (words of Christ are printed in red). The quality is quite good but it appears the MEV is not yet available in premium formats. That said, I believe Passio will shortly provide an updated version of this Bible, which will weed out any remaining bugs with the work. These updates cost money though; to pay for the scholarship as well as the presentation of the Bible as a whole. By purchasing a copy, you can help this fledgling Bible in the KJV tradition go from strength to strength.

The clear, double-column format of the MEV large print Bible.

The large print MEV is a nicely made Bible, available in a number of different coloured covers.

Though this is not a reference Bible, I would highly recommend the MEV to all those who enjoy the old KJV but in a more contemporary, readable, modern English format.

The New King James Version(NKJV)

The New KIng James (Holman version); arguably the finest blend of the old and the new.

The New King James Version(NKJV) is the oldest of the modern attempts to update the Authorised Version. First commissioned by Thomas Nelson in 1975, the NKJV project involved a committee of 130 Biblical scholars chosen from a ‘broad church’ of Christian denominations to create an entirely new translation of the Scriptures from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. True to the original intentions of the KJV translators, who themselves consulted older English translations than the venerable 1611, the committee strove “not to create a new translation but to make a good translation better.” The first edition appeared in 1982 and after some revisions were made, a finalised version appeared in 1984. This is the version which we now have and enjoy.

Unlike the other Bibles discussed in this blog, the NKJV consulted both the Alexandrian and Byzantine texts to bring its readers the finest Biblical scholarship from both genres, but strove hard to maintain the majesty of the Authorised Version. So, for example, verses 9 through 20 in the last chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel are reproduced but do contain a footnote stating that “Verses 9-20 are bracketed in NU-text as not original. They are lacking in the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, although nearly all other manuscripts of Mark contain them.” The ” Nu” here refers the older, Alexandrian texts(or the so-called Critical Texts).Likewise, the account of the woman caught in adultery in the Gospel of John Chapter 8 are also quoted in the main texts with footnotes indicating that many of the oldest manuscripts do not contain such verses.

Many verses omitted in other translations are faithfuly rendered in the NKJV. Consider 1 John 5:7 for example;

For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.

1 John 5:7(NKJV)

Some have expressed concern that too many changes were made to the NKJV that interfered with doctrine, but having embraced this translation as my go-to Bible for several years now, I have to say that I respectfully disagree with this assessment. Indeed, I think it to be the perfect amalgam of old and new. Specifically, it does not go as far as the MEV in updating the English, but does remove more archaic words than the Jubilee 2000 translation, for example. Personally, I think it’s an awesome translation, one that I favour above all others. What is more, I find it easy to go from the NKJV back to the KJV, but equally so, I find it just as easy to move over to fully modernised versions like the ESV and NIV.

One of the things that really appeals to me regarding the NKJV(American English) is that the text has not been updated since 1984. Indeed, some commentators have claimed that the language of the NKJV has already been outdated. That said, I have heard through the grapevine that Thomas Nelson have not said categorically that they will not update the text at some time in the future. To be honest, there is hardly any reason to undergo such changes for at least another century lol. If you feel the same way and don’t wish the NKJV to be updated in the foreseeable future, it might help to email them in order to let them know your thoughts and feelings concerning any such updates.

Another reason why many Christians stick with Byzantine-based texts is that they are, in many ways, less scientifically constructed than those that rely more heavily on the older Alexandrian counterparts. By this I mean, if you were to look at all the sermons used by pastors down the centuries, all the way back to the writings of the early Church Fathers, you will discover that much of their material came directly from the Byzantine manuscript tradition. In otherwords, the Majority texts actually formed the basis of their teachings, unlike the best scientifically constructed texts we see in modern Bibles(like the ESV, NASB and NIV).   What is more, some other Bible commentators have noted that many of the heresies that arose within the early Church, such as Gnosticism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Psilanthropism etc, originated on the Alexandrian side. For these reasons, they claim that it is safer to stick with the western, Byzantine tradition.

Today, you can obtain beautiful NKJVs(and KJVs for that matter) published by Thomas Nelson, Holman and Cambridge University Press. Unlike the cheap, bonded leather of the older (read 1990s and noughties) copies, the newer NKJVs are adorned with ornate and durable leather-tex, with clear, large-print text(such as Comfort Print), smyth-sewn bindings in either black letter or red letter editions, which can be acquired at relatively little cost. As I affirmed elsewhere, I’m not one for collecting premium Bibles.

I now have two NKJVs in my possesion. The first is my Holman large print personal size Bible, which I have mentioned in more detail here. I use it while I’m away from home or while attending Church. It is small, compact and lightweight:

My travelling Bible; a plain NKJV by Holman with minmal footnotes.

I have another NKJV; the Thomas Nelson Deluxe Reader’s Bible, which only has the text. It was a Christmas gift from my wife in 2018. Though still not a premium Bible, it is very beautiful, with an all-black text with red headings and chapter numbers:

The protective casing of the Thomas Nelson NKJV Deluxe Reader’s Bible.

The NKJV Delux Reader’s Bible is guaranteed for life, has a strong smyth sewn binding, gold gilting and two red satin ribbon markers. It contains no notes, concordance or maps of any description(that’s why it’s referred to as a reader’s Bible). Because it is rather large and heavy, I use it entirely for devotional reading at home.

The plain but beautiful faux leather cover of the Thomas Nelson Deluxe Reader’s Bible.

 

The title pgae of the Deluxe Reader’s Bible.

The single column text is in black and has red headings. The layout is very easy on the eye.

There are many other NKJV Bibles that are even more ornate(but more expensive) but if you really want one with the finest leather bindings, they can be purchased in the region of $70 to $200.

In discussing these modernised versions of the King James Bible, I have certainly not exhausted all the choices available to the contemporary reader. For example, there is the 21st century King James Bible(KJV 21), which also retains much of the linguistic richness of the Authorised KJV but has updated the spelling and punctuation of the latter, yet like the Jubilee 2000, still retains the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’, etc and which is reportedly( I do not have a copy) easier to read than the KJV itself. More on the KJV 21 here.

Having said all of this, I feel the Authorised Version of the King James Bible ought to hold a very special place in the library of all Bible believing Christians. There really is nothing like the original in its sheer, towering majesty.

Of all the Bibles I have in my collection, I have more KJVs than any other translation, not just as a result of purchasing them, but also because they have been gifted to me by friends and family members over the years. And in this day and age, one can acquire truly amazing bargains. Here I would like to showcase just one example; the KJV Large Print Standard Bible, published by Christian Art Publishers(Republic of South Africa):

The Authorised King James Bible by Christian Art Publishers.

The cover is a very attractive dark brown LuxLeather in a most convenient lay-flat binding.

Title page of the Christian Art Publishers KJV Bible.

This Bible has good quality paper and the words of Scripture are in a very easy-to-read, line-matched, 14 point font size. And though an inch and a half thick, it is surprisingly light weight and easy to carry from place to place;

The beautiful, large and clear text of the Christian Art Publisher’s KJV.

This is a red letter edition (words of Christ in red) with convenient thumb indices to quickly locate each of the books of the Bible:

The Christian Art Publisher’s Large Print KJV has the words of Christ in red and has thumb indices for each book of the Bible.

And to round it all off, the page edges of this lovely, large-print Bible have a beautiful gold gilding with a single colour-matched satin ribbon page marker:

The beautifully applied gold gilding on the sides of the pages.

It has a full concordance and an eminently useful verse finder section, as well a number of full colour maps of the ancient Middle East.

Best of all, this remarkable edition of the Authorised KJV cost just £20 including shipping!

Well, this is where I would like to finish this blog on the King James Bible and a few of the other versions based on the same or similar manuscript tradition. I for one will always cherish this masterpiece of religious literature, which has inspired both princes and paupers alike, over many generations, to worship and adore the Ever Living God. I will continue to read it in contemplative silence to myself, or aloud, as it was originally intended, to my wife and children, where its words reverberate around the room.

Let us end with a solemn prayer inspired form its pages;

O God All-Sufficient

Thou hast made and upholdest all things

by the word of thy power;

darkness is thy pavilion,

thou walkest on the wings of the the wind;

all nations are nothing before thee;

one generation succeeds another,

and we hasten back to the dust;

the heavens we behold will vanish away

like the clouds that cover them,

the earth we tread on will dissolve as a morning dream;

But thou, unchangeable and incorruptible,

art for ever and ever,

God over all, blessed eternally.

Infinitely great and glorious art thou.

We are thy offspring and thy care.

Thy hands have made and fashioned us.

Thou hast watched over us with more than parental love,

more than maternal tenderness.

Thou hast holden our soul in life,

and not suffered our feet to be moved.

They divine power has given us all things necessary for life and godliness.

Let us bless thee at all times and forget not

how thou hast forgiven our iniquities, healed our diseases,

redeemed our lives from destruction,

crowned us with lovingkindness and tender mercies,

satisfied our mouths with good things,

renewed our youth like the eagle’s.

May thy Holy Scriptures govern every part of our lives,

and regulate the discharge of all our duties,

so that we may adorn thy doctrine in all things

Amen

From the Valley of Vision pp 382-3

 

 

Neil English is the author of Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, which recounts how many amateur and professional astronomers throughout the ages maintained a strong and pervasive Christian faith throughout their careers.

Post Scriptum:

More background on the King James Bible can be be found on these links;

Librarian P.J. Carefoote on the religious and historical importance of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible.

 

The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicholson

 

The King James and other early Bibles at Wadham College Oxford

 

Thomas Nelson Publisher’s Miscellania on the King James Bible

 

President Abraham Lincoln’s Bible:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

President Ronald Reagan’s opinion on the King James Bible

 

Problems with the King James Bible

 

The King James Only Controversy

 

Which English Translation of the Bible Should We Use?

 

 

De Fideli.