Product Review: The Viking Merlin ED 8 x 32.

The Merlin ED 8 x 32 by Viking Optical UK.

A work begun July 31 2020

Recently I put a Viking Optical Kestrel ED 8 x 42 through its paces, and reported very favourably regarding its optical and mechanical quality. But over the last few months I’ve been hankering after a high-quality, light weight birding binocular that offers good value for money but wouldn’t break the bank. My search brought me to consider the Merlin(after the raptor, not the mythical magician lol) ED 8 x 32 also offered by Viking Optical for reasons that I wish to highlight in this review. But my approach in this blog will be decidedly different to most other reviews in that I wish to assess its many optical and mechanical features in comparison to two other binoculars; a Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32, which has many attributes in common with the Merlin, and a smaller, Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20, as an additional control in assessing optical and mechanical quality.

The Merlin Binocular at a Glance:

 

Specification: 8 x 32mm

Weight(with/without strap): 561g/518g

Dimensions: W/H: 12.9 x 12.3 cm

Optics: Double ED objective, full multi-coated, with phase and dielectrically coated roof prisms

Field of View: 7.8 angular degrees(137m@1000m)

Eye Relief: 15.6mm

Waterproof: Yes

Fogproof/Nitrogen purging: Yes

Focusing: Central

Warranty: 10 years( 5 years parts & labour, 5 years parts only)

Accessories: Quality padded & neck strap,padded nylon carry case, rain guard, tethered objective covers, lens cleaning cloth.

Retail Price: £239.00

 

A Brief Word on Packaging: The Viking Merlin, just like the Kestrel 8 x 42 previously tested, came with the same high-quality presentation box, with all the above accessories included. Very nice!

Calvin Jones’ binocular guide booklet( 2017 edition).

I recently acquired a small booklet(47 pages), entitled, Choosing Binoculars For Birdwatching and Wildlife, written by Calvin Jones, founder and chairman of Ireland’s Wildlife.  Calvin, a veteran birder and naturalist, is a native of Wales, but has put down roots in West Cork, in the south of Ireland, where he offers tours to wildlife enthusiasts and birders. As an expert commentator on binoculars, his booklet consists of concise information and largely impartial advice to the general public on choosing a good binocular for nature observation. I would recommend this booklet to anyone interested in making a binocular purchase, and in this blog I’ll be comparing his advice on a point by point basis, to the binoculars showcased in this review, but will also be including additional tests not covered or mentioned by Mr. Jones in his booklet.

Quote: “Choosing quality optics is about finding the right compromise between size, weight, optical performance, ergonomics, practicality, function and price” Page 7.

Comment: Couldn’t agree more! Jones narrows down his recommendations to two principal formats: 8 x 42 and 8 x 32. For me, 8 x 42 carries a bit too much weight, especially as I intend to use it for many hours in the field. Thus I settled on the 8 x 32 format which offers most of the performance of the larger glass, during normal daylight hours at least, only showing some drawbacks to the larger instrument during very low light conditions. However, since I don’t do much terrestrial glassing at dawn or dusk, the greater light gathering power of the 42mm format is not necessary for my purposes. It is also worth noting that the smaller 8 x 32 format is less expensive than its larger counterpart, which is always good news.

Quote: “Today you can get a good pair of binoculars for a relatively modest investment of around £100-150, and you’ll find some excellent instruments in the £250-400 price bracket that will serve you faithfully for decades of bird watching and wildlife observation.” Page 9

The Celestron Trailseeker(top) offers great performance for its modest price tag but the Viking Merlin goes that little bit further for not much more money.

Comment: Again, I couldn’t agree more! Jones is fully aware that the cost of including high tech optical features, previously only available on premium brands, is now standard on mid-priced binoculars. The same is true of mechanical quality as well, though not quite to the same extent. This is great news for the budget-conscious enthusiast. The Viking Merlin delivers wonderful performance for its modest price tag, but so does the less expensive Celestron Trailseeker( ~£145), which possesses all of the optical features of the Merlin bar its ED billing. Mechanically though, the Merlin is significantly better, with a smoother all-metal focus wheel and right eye dioptre ring( they are made of plastic on the Trailseeker), and better overall ergonomics.

Quote: “Unless you’re looking to use your binoculars for a particular specialist task, choose something in the 8x to 10x range for general bird watching and wildlife observation.”  Page 19

Comment: Agreed. But between 8x and 10x, I would generally opt for the former more often than not. The reasons are several fold: less shake at lower power, so affording steadier views, less compromised optical quality(at 10x you’ll be introducing 25 per cent more chromatic aberration, and commensurately greater off-axis Seidel aberrations, all other things being equal), the field of view will be also larger in general with the 8x model, which is beneficial for tracking your target and enjoying vistas, and of course, brighter images, owing to the larger exit pupils afforded by the lower power for a given aperture.

Quote: ” Here are a few optical features its worth looking out for when researching your new binoculars:

ED or HD lenses: Colour fringing can be an issue with standard binoculars, particularly when viewing high contrast subjects(light subjects against a dark background or vice versa). ED or HD glass reduces or eliminates colour fringing, improving the perceived sharpness, contrast and colour fidelity of the resulting image.” Page 23-24.

Comments: Here I must admit to being less in agreement with the author. Comparing the views through the Trailseeker and the Merlin (same field of view), I would agree that there is a slight but very subtle improvement in sharpness and image contrast in the latter instrument. The amount of chromatic aberration is so vanishingly small that it’s really only apparent when looking at dark objects against a very bright background sky and only if you look for it. I simply don’t accept that there are night and day differences at the low powers (both 8x) served up by these binoculars. Indeed, I believe the effect of ED glass is generally exaggerated in low power binoculars such as these by the majority of reviewers, and counts for little in the way of improved optical performance. I also read comments like “the colours are off” in non-ED binos, but I don’t understand that either. With trained, average eyes I feel this claim is an exaggeration of the truth. The differences are small at best!

Note added in proof: Jones adds this comment on page 26:

“Look out for HD or ED glass in the objective lens – but bear in mind that non-ED binoculars from premium manufacturers can, and often do, outperform ED optics from some other brands.”

Comment:

The superb Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 sports excellent optical performance without ED glass that outperformed a quality ED pocket glass.

Too right. I have, and previously reported that, a very nice Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20, which doesn’t have ED glass elements, still delivered sharper and more contrasted images than a high-quality Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 binocular. So, don’t believe the hype!

To summarise: I would never base a purchase of a good quality binocular solely on its ED billing. While it’s certainly advantageous to have ED glass as part of a well designed optical system, a properly executed non-ED glass can provide wonderful results in all weathers.

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

A Curious Aside: In one or two on-line birding sites I’ve visited I came across statements to the effect of ” for birding you need an ED binocular.”

Is that so?

May I ask a few questions?

How long has the hobby of birding been in existence? And for how many of those years were ED binoculars available? What did birders do before the days of ED; pack up and go home?

Aye right!

Thieving gayponaut propaganda…. methinks.

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

Quote: “Always choose fully-multi-coated optics for wildlife observation and birding. If you’re buying roof prisms look for phase correction …..dielectric coatings are better and deliver a brighter image but tend to cost significantly more…..look for additional protective lens coatings that shield the external lens surfaces.” Page 30.

Comments: Both the Merlin and the Trailseeker are fully multi-coated, have phase corrected optics as well as dielectric prism coatings. In my tests at dusk I noted no significant difference in the brightness of the image between the Merlin and the Trailseeker, so, once again, the claim made by more than a few reviewers – but not Mr. Jones himself –  that ED glass delivers brighter images is not substantiated by my findings. Indeed, while the ED glass should focus the light slightly more tightly, it cannot make a big difference to the brightness of the image. At 8x why should it?

What Calvin Jones does not mention much about in his booklet is control of glare, which the coatings on the lenses and prisms as well as the type of binocular baffling employed will certainly contribute to. In my tests conducted during bright overcast conditions in late July, I found the Leica Trinovid to have much stronger veiling glare than either the Celestron Trailseeker or the Viking Merlin.This is attributed to the much more greatly recessed objective elements in the latter instruments compared with the fully exposed objective lenses on the Leica Trinovid. However, such glare can be all but removed by shielding using your hand held above the objectives or by using a broad-rimmed hat.

Both the Celestron Trailseeker( foreground) and the Viking Merlin have deeply recessed objectives which help to keep veiling glare at bay. Note the distinctly different colours of the anti-reflection coatings on both instruments. I judged the quality of the coatings to be slightly better on the Merlin.

Internal reflection is another important contributor to loss of contrast in a binocular image. This is easily assessed by directing an intense beam of light into the binocular and examining the images for evidence of internal reflections as well as any diffused light in the image. Well, as I indicated in other blogs, the Leica Trinovid has the best stray light control of any binocular I have tested. The coatings and baffles used by Leica effectively eliminate this annoying artefact.

To my great surprise (and relief), the Merlin proved fully the equal of the Leica in side by side tests. There was hardly any internal reflections at all – and very subdued at that – and showed no signs of contrast-robbing diffused light either. Indeed I scored both the Leica and the Merlin a 10 for this test. The Celestron Trailseeker did very well in the same tests but did show a little more in the way of internal reflections, reducing its score to maybe 8.5 on the same scale.

All three of these binoculars will provide excellent performance at night when looking at strongly illuminated cityscapes, a bright Moon and more besides.

Quote: “Adequate field of view is important, but a super-wide field isn’t really necessary..” Page 32

Comments: Strongly agree!  Many 8 x 32s try to push the envelope and deliver very wide fields, sometimes in excess of 8.0 angular degrees. But the wider the field, the more difficult it will be to control off axis aberrations, such as field curvature, pin-cushion distortion and astigmatism etc. Better to have a smaller field that displays better edge-to-edge sharpness than have a very wide field which blurs the image too much at the periphery. Both the Merlin and the Trailseeker deliver the same field of view of 137m@1000m (7.8 angular degrees) but I found the sweetspot (inside which the image remains really sharp and pleasant) in the Merlin to be slightly wider than in the Trailseeker, but none were in the same class as the superlative Leica, which displays clearly superior edge of field sharpness in the same tests conducted on a bright waxing gibbous Moon sinking low into the south-southwest sky on the evening of July 28 2020. However, it must be noted that the field of view of the Leica is noticeably smaller(6.5 angular degrees) than either of the 8 x 32s tested.

Quote: “Make sure the binoculars you buy are robust enough to stand up to the rigours of extended field use. Choose a lightweight but sturdy pair, with good balance and grip and always make sure they are fully waterproof and nitrogen or argon purged.” Page 39.

Comment: Mr. Jones makes a very valid point here. Fortunately, most mid-priced binoculars are very well built these days and are constructed of strong and lightweight materials; polycarbonate, and alloys of aluminium, titanium and/or magnesium. The Merlin is constructed from a polycarbonate substrate, the Trailseeker from a magnesium alloy, and aluminium, in the case of a Leica. Many binocular commentators suggest that the metal alloy bodies are more durable, but I don’t have, as yet, any evidence to corroborate that.

The Celestron Trailseeker tips the scales some 100g less than the Merlin, but while this should act in the Trailseeker’s favour, there are other issues to consider. In particular, ergonomics; how the instrument feels and works in your hands. The Merlin feels very solid and its shorter bridge than the Trailseeker means that I can get my fingers firmly wrapped around the barrels for a firmer grip while glassing. The hard rubber overcoat has excellent grip and doesn’t attract a lot of dust like other models, such as the Nikon Prostaff 8 x 30 I tried some months back. What’s more, I am confident it won’t feel off any time soon unlike the concerns I had with the sweet little Nikon binocular.

The solidly constructed twist-up eye cups on the Viking Merlin hold their  extended positions rigidly and reliably.

But let’s look at other things. Consider the eye cups on both the Trailseeker and the Merlin. Both are solidly made from soft rubber over metal and have a couple of click stops that stay rigidly in place and can accommodate different amounts of eye relief for spectacle wearers as well as for those, like yours truly, who observe without glasses. The quality is the same for both these 8 x 32s and hand-on-heart, I actually prefer the eye cups on the Trailseeker that little bit better. That said, the Merlin’s eye cups are strong and will hold up well, I suspect, even after years of use. One neat way to see if your binocular eye cups are up to scratch is to extend them outwards fully before turning the instrument upside down to see if they support the weight of the binocular. If they do, you’re in business. I’m delighted to say that both the Merlin and the Trailseeker pass this test with flying colours!

Does your binocular pass the eye cup test? The Merlin does!

Other ergonomic issues to consider in a good birding binocular is the quality of the focus wheel. The Merlin has a smoother and more responsive focuser than the Trailseeker, with zero play or backlash. In addition, from one extreme of focus to the other entails turning it just over one revolution. The Trailseeker, in comparison, requires one and a half revolutions to go from one end of its focus travel to the other. This means that keeping objects in focus with the Viking Merlin is easier to achieve, especially on moving targets like birds in flight etc. That said, the Trailseeker actually has the better depth of focus, that is, it keeps objects in clear vision over a greater distance.

The Viking Merlin has a silky smooth focus wheel which takes just over one full revolution to go from one extreme to the other.

Going Minimal

After I cut off the bits of the neck strap I won’t be needing, I take a lighted match to the ends and melt it for a few seconds to stop it from fraying at some later stage.

One thing that really gets on my wick when using a binocular is the various appendages that attend the instrument- the tethered rain guard and objective lens caps, an unwieldy strap with ‘dangly’ bits getting in the way. Although I fully concede that the objective caps and rain guard are absolutely essential in some situations, on the average dry day, they are quite unnecessary to have on the binocular. I can do without the objective caps most of the time, as even in rainy situations, the objectives hang downward and the deeply recessed objective lenses act as natural protection against rain and mist. The rain guard need not be tethered to the strap either, but simply carried in a pocket and whipped onto the eye cups when the heavens open. Also, I can’t stand having too much slack in the binocular strap, so I cut them back to size and heat the cut ends with a match to stop them fraying at some later stage.

The result is a much leaner machine, one I can just pick up and use at a moment’s notice. Removing all such appendages also cuts down on the weight of the binocular. Indeed, in its minimalist form, it tips the scales at just 561g, which is much easier on the neck muscles!

The minimalist Merlin 8 x 32 weighs in at just 561g.

Quote: “While few people will buy binoculars solely on the strength of the warranty, and hopefully you won’t need to avail of it, a manufacturer’s willingness to stand over their product is obviously a major plus” Page 41

Comments: I agree. This is a very important aspect of any binocular purchase. It is very re-assuring to know that the company you buy your binocular from will stand behind their product and repair or replace parts as and when necessary. The fact that Viking Optical are a real optics firm and not just a retailer, I get the added benefit of knowing that even if the instrument is no longer under warranty, I can send it down to their technicians who will give it their professional attention and fix any problem that might arise.

Notes from the field

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…..with a good 8 x 32.

I always use the stars to measure the field of view of a binocular. In this capacity, the Viking Merlin 8 x 32  was unable to fit the two bright stars of the Plough( Big Dipper in North America) Phecda and Merak in the same field – but just barely! Since these are 7.9 angular degrees apart, the stated field of the view of the Merlin at 7.8 angular degrees seems to be accurately stated.

I gave mention earlier in this blog about the exceptional suppression of stray light in the Viking Merlin binocular. This can also be seen in the lack of stray light around the ocular lenses as shown by the photograph below:

Check out the clean exit pupils and lack of stray light around the ocular lenses.

The Merlin 8 x 32 is a joy to use in the field as it is robust but quite light weight. Having used it for many hours a day during our vacation to Pembrokeshire, South Wales, I was continually delighted with its extreme sharpness, excellent contrast and wonderful colour rendition. It handled many different types of terrain effortlessly; forests and woodland,open meadows and grassland, sandy beaches and wet and windy promontories and fishing piers. And despite being put through its paces, its quality mechanical build never left me down.

Pembrokeshire is a well known haunt for bird watchers, where many raptors can be seen gliding high in the sky, facilitated by warm summer ground thermals, or perched on telephone poles watching the fields below for unwary rodents. I saw several pairs of Buzzard, a few Peregrine falcons and even a lucky sighting of a Red Kite and Sparrowhawk. But the wonderful optics on the Viking Merlin 8 x 32, also allowed me to enjoy common birds, such as Black-headed and Herring gulls soaring on the salty sea air and Magpies, Robins, Starlings,  Swifts, Swallows, Blackbirds, Ravens and even the Common Crow are a joy to study with this small, high-quality outdoor glass.

 

To be continued………………

 

De Fideli.

What I’m Reading.

“In August 2019, Thunberg sailed from Europe to New York to set an example of how to live without emitting carbon. But Greta ‘s renewable-powered sailboat trip across the Atlantic  produced four times more emissions than flying. The reason was that sailing required a sailboat crew, who flew back home afterward .” Page 224.

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

                                                                                                                 Genesis 8:22

 

 

About the Author: Michael Shellenberger is a Time magazine “Hero of the Environment”; the winner of the 2008 Green Book Award from the Stevens Institute of Technology’s Center for Science Writings; and an invited expert reviewer of the next Assessment Report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He has written on energy and the environment for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street JournalNature Energy, and other publications for two decades. He is the founder and president of Environmental Progress, an independent, nonpartisan research organization based in Berkeley, California.

 

Reviews

Apocalypse Never is an extremely important book. Within its lively pages, Michael Shellenberger uses science and lived experience to rescue a subject drowning in misunderstanding and partisanship. His message is invigorating: if you have feared for the planet’s future, take heart.” (Richard Rhodes, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Making of the Atomic Bomb)

“Environmental issues are frequently confused by conflicting and often extreme views, with both sides fueled to some degree by ideological biases, ignorance and misconceptions. Michael Shellenberger’s balanced and refreshing book delves deeply into a range of environmental issues and exposes misrepresentations by scientists, one-sided distortions by environmental organizations, and biases driven by financial interests. His conclusions are supported by examples, cogent and convincing arguments, facts and source documentation. Apocalypse Never may well be the most important book on the environment ever written.” (Tom Wigley, climate scientist, University of Adelaide, former senior scientist National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS))

“We must protect the planet, but how? Some strands of the environmental movement have locked themselves into a narrative of sin and doom that is counterproductive, anti-human, and not terribly scientific. Shellenberger advocates a more constructive environmentalism that faces our wicked problems and shows what we have to do to solve them.” (Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Enlightenment Now)

“If there is one thing that we have learned from the coronavirus pandemic, it is that strong passions and polarized politics lead to distortions of science, bad policy, and potentially vast, needless suffering. Are we making the same mistakes with environmental policies?  I have long known Michael Shellenberger to be a bold, innovative, and nonpartisan pragmatist. He is a lover of the natural world whose main moral commitment is to figure out what will actually work to safeguard it. If you share that mission, you must read Apocalypse Never.” (Jonathan Haidt, author of Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion)

“The painfully slow global response to human-caused climate change is usually blamed on the political right’s climate change denial and love affair with fossil fuels. But in this engaging and well-researched treatise, Michael Shellenberger exposes the environmental movement’s hypocrisy in painting climate change in apocalyptic terms while steadfastly working against nuclear power, the one green energy source whose implementation could feasibly avoid the worst climate risks. Disinformation from the left has replaced deception from the right as the greatest obstacle to mitigating climate change.” (Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science, MIT)

“The trouble with end-of-the-world environmental scenarios is that they hide evidence-based diagnoses and exile practical solutions. Love it or hate it, Apocalypse Never asks us to consider whether the apocalyptic headline of the day gets us any closer to a future in which nature and people prosper.” (Peter Kareiva, director of the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA, and former chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy
)

“In this tour de force of science journalism, Michael Shellenberger shows through interviews, personal experiences, vignettes, and case histories that environmental science offers paths away from hysteria and toward humanism. This superb book unpacks and explains the facts and forces behind deforestation, climate change, extinction, fracking, nature conservation, industrial agriculture, and other environmental challenges to make them amenable to improvements and solutions.” (Mark Sagoff, author of The Economy of the Earth)

“We environmentalists condemn those with antithetical views of being ignorant of science and susceptible to confirmation bias.  But too often we are guilty of the same.  Shellenberger offers ‘tough love:’ a challenge to entrenched orthodoxies and rigid, self-defeating mindsets.  Apocalypse Never serves up occasionally stinging, but always well-crafted, evidence-based points of view that will help develop the ‘mental muscle’ we need to envision and design not only a hopeful, but an attainable, future.” (Steve McCormick, former CEO, The Nature Conservancy and former President of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation)

“Michael Shellenberger loves the Earth too much to tolerate the conventional wisdom of environmentalism. This book, born of his passions, is a wonder: a research-driven page turner that will change how you view the world. I wish I’d been brave enough to write it, and grateful that he was.” (Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist at MIT and author of More from Less)

“Will declaring a crisis save the planet? The stakes are high, but Michael Shellenberger shows that the real environmental solutions are good for people too. No one will come away from this lively, moving, and well-researched book without a deeper understanding of the very real social challenges and opportunities to making a better future in the Anthropocene.” (Erle Ellis, professor of geography and environmental systems, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and author of Anthropocene: A Very Short Introduction)

 

De Fideli.

Spectrum

Take a Closer Look.

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.                                                   

                                                                                                            John 8:31-32

 

 

In this blog, I’ll be exploring subjects of general interest/concern to me and wider society in this age of mass deception and rapid moral decline:

 

The Dark Side of Transgender Medicine

 

How the Media Manipulates Truth

 

Cogito Ergo Sum

 

The Secular Case Against Homosexuality

 

Our Fragile Home

 

The Anti-Social Network

 

A Form of Child Abuse

 

Cool stuff you never hear in Church

 

The Rise of Homeschooling

 

James Clerk Maxwell: a Great Life Lived

 

Reasonable Faith: An Interview with Professor Alvin Plantinga

 

Doubting Dodgy Science

 

Evaluating World Views

 

Depraved Minds

 

The Beauty of the Creation

 

The Preciousness of Free Speech

 

Walking your Way to Good Health

 

Did the Eye Really Evolve?

 

Unholy Alliance: when Dodgy Science Merges with Theology

 

The Truth about UFOs

 

The Rise of Neo-Paganism

 

From Spiritual Shipwreck to Salvation

 

The Rise in Euthanasia Killings

 

The Greatest Story Ever Told

 

Holocaust Survivor

 

Coming Soon to a Town Near You: The Rise of Bestiality

 

The Death of Naturalism

 

Anything Goes

 

From Gaypo to Paedo

 

When Scientists Lose the Plot

 

The Sixth Mass Extinction Event in Our Midst

 

‘Depth Charging’ the Values of the Ancient World

 

The Truth about the Fossil Record

 

AI

 

The Language Instinct

 

Not the Same God

 

Greening the Deserts

 

Moving the Herds

 

Evolutionary Atheist gets his Facts Wrong…..Again

 

Distinguished MIT Nuclear Physicist Refutes Scientism

 

Pursuing Truth

 

The Dangers of Yoga

 

Pseudoastronomy

 

Get thee right up thyself! : The New Transhumanist Religion

 

The Biblical Origin of Human Rights and why it’s a Problem for Atheists

 

A Closer Look at the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

 

Winds of Change: Prestigious Science Journal Concedes Design

 

A Distinguished Chemist Speaks the Truth

 

The Scourge of Pornography

 

Eye

 

Bart Ehrman Debunked

 

An Evil Generation Seeks After a Sign

 

Magnetic Pole Shift

 

Decimation of Global Insect Populations

 

The Spiritual Suicide of a Once Christian Nation

 

Mass Animal Deaths Worldwide

 

Not Going Anywhere

 

UN Report: World’s Food Supply under ‘Severe Threat’ from Loss of Biodiversity

 

False gods of the New Age

 

From Abortion to Infanticide in the “Land of the Free”

 

Sports Personalities Speak Out Over Transgender Athletes

 

Magonus Sucatus Patricius

 

Celebrating a Killing

 

Human “Out of Africa” Theory Debunked

 

The Other Side of the Rainbow

 

Vintage James Tour: How to Cook Up a Proto-Turkey

 

Big Brother Watching

 

Follow the Evidence: The Problem of Orphan Genes

 

Follow the Evidence: The Genius of Birds

 

The Butterfly Enigma

 

Man’s Best Friend

 

Darwinian Evolution On Trial Among Biologists

 

New Fossil Finds Thwart Human Evolutionary Predictions

 

Global Persecution of Christians

 

 Ratio Christi

 

Questions About the Qur’an

 

Engaging with Islam

 

Calling Evil Good

 

Parousia

 

Tall Tales From Yale: Giving up Darwin.

 

More on the Proto-Turkey:  Dr. Tour Responds to Cheap Shots from the Pond Scum Merchants

 

Good Riddance: Despicable British TV Show Axed after Death of Participant

 

There’s Heehaw Out There…ken.

 

The Fastest Growing Insanity the World has Ever Seen

 

Pharmakeia

 

Darwinism & Racism: Natural Bed Fellows

 

The Modern Root of Anti-Semitism

 

Jesus & Archaeology

 

A Victory for Common Sense: Transgender Weightlifter Stripped of his Medals

 

The US Equality Act: A Plea for Caution

 

Reunited: Music & the Human Spirit

 

Gladys Wilson

 

1st Century Christian Insight: The Didache

 

The Clothes Maketh the Man

 

Why Some Books were Left Out of the Bible

 

Why the Human Mind is not Material

 

What God Thinks of Scientific Atheism

 

For the Love of the Creator

 

An Essential Component of a Modern Education

 

Peace Cross

 

Earth: “Presidential Suite” of the Universe

 

How to Really Stand Out in a Crowd

 

Straight from a NASA Scientist: Jewel Planet

 

The Singularity

 

No Life Without Super Intelligence

 

Darwinism as a Cargo Cult

 

Body Plan Development Raises New Headaches for Evolutionists

 

Membrane Biochemistry Stymies Evolutionary Origin of Complex Cells

 

Science Speaks: Common Abortafacients Harmful to Both Mother & Child

 

Biblical Ignoramus Twists the Words of Christ

 

Apologia Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

 

Attention Parents: American Psycho Association Promoting Polyamory to Pre-Teens as ‘Ethical.’

 

The Only Rainbow God Recognises

 

Calling Time Out on Evolutionists’ Failure to Explain The Cambrian Explosion

 

7 Reasons to Reject Replacement Theology

 

Psychiatric Diagnoses are ‘Scientifically Meaningless’ Study Shows

 

Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God

 

Universalism Debunked

 

The Prosperity Gospel Debunked

 

New Science Reveals First Cellular Life to be “Amazingly Complex”

 

New Law Firms Being Established to Counter the Rise in Christian Persecution

 

Playing the Numbers 32:23 Game

 

Multiple Lines of Scientific Evidence Converge on 3rd Century BC Age of the Famous Isaiah 53 Scroll.

 

Meet the Gestapo

 

Exposed: Theologians Deceived by Darwinian Ideology

 

New Insights into the Shroud of Turin

 

What we Know and Do Not Know About the Human Genome

 

Debunking Da Vinci Code Tosh

 

Sorry: No Such Thing as “Gay” Penguins

 

Genetic Entropy

 

Dunderheid Alexa

 

The Extinction of Reason

 

A Biblical Perspective on Diet

 

Revelation: Number of Transgender People Seeking Sex Reversals Skyrockets

 

Psychologist Debunks Pseudoscientific Explanations for Human Love & Compassion

 

The Dismantling of the Feminine

 

Disturbing Trends in the Roman Catholic Church

 

N = 402

 

The Nazareth Inscription

 

A Christian Response to Halloween

 

Seeking Methuselah

 

Beware the Enneagram

 

No Safe Spaces!

 

Pale Blue Dot

 

Encyclopedia Galactica

 

Phillip E. Johnson: A Tribute

 

The Darwinian Response to Human Life: Let the Baby Die!

 

The Best Explanation for Beauty

 

What is Feminism?

 

Insects & Light Pollution

 

Candy-Ass Christianity

 

Antiobiotic Resistance in a Post-Darwinian World

 

Adam & Eve: Redux

 

Joyce Meyer

 

Michael Behe Says No to Theistic Evolution

 

New Atheism: An Autopsy

 

Serenading an Old Girl.

 

“Progressive” Christianity as a Political Cult.

 

Israel Folau Vindicated

 

The Church of Satan, Sweden

 

A Rational, Christian Response to Humanism

 

More Depravity: the Sexualisation of Children

 

Shameful Humanity:  Murder of the Unborn Now the Biggest Worldwide Killer.

 

Origin Stories

 

Privileged Planet

 

Brokeness

 

Sorry Sam Smith, You’re Still a ‘He.’

 

Nature Genetics: How ‘Evolutionary Thinking’ led Biologists Astray about Pseudogenes.

 

A Kingdom Divided Against Itself: Why Evolutionary Psychology is Bunk

 

Of Melting Glaciers and Darwinism

 

First US President Addresses 47th March For Life, as theSecular Media Duck for Cover

 

Wolves Among the Sheepfolds

 

The New Science of Separate, Distinct Creations

 

That Sacred Space

 

Faith of the Fatherless

 

More Tales of Darwinian Thuggery

 

Keeping your Children Strong in the Faith

 

Former Editor of Nature Waves Bye Bye to the RNA World

 

At Scientific American: Physicist Pours Cold Water on Scientism

 

A Biblical Perspective on Alcohol Consumption

 

High Priest of a Pseudoscience Rears His Ugly Head Again

 

Another Step into the Human Immorality Sewer: Normalizing Throuples & Sologamy

 

Symptom of a Depraved Society: Scientists Now Fighting to Affirm a Basic Fact of Life: Sex is Binary

 

Speaking the Truth in Love: Where the LGBTQ Community is Ultimately Headed

 

The Power of Biblical Prophecy: The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem

 

Origin of Life Debate: James Tour versus Lee Cronin.

 

7 Rock Solid Scientific Arguments for the God of the Bible

 

SETI@Home Shuts Down

 

An Existential Crisis in Neuroscience

 

AI Hype and the End of Moore’s Law

 

Discerning Fact from Spin/Fiction in Cosmos 3.0

 

Polly’s No Statistician!

 

Why All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men Cannot Put Humpty Together.

 

COVID-19

 

The James 5:16 Phenomenon; the Healing Power of Prayer

 

Heart of Darkness: Organ Harvesting of Chinese Prisoners

 

Confessions of a (yet another) Darwinian Sceptic

 

Selflessness

 

Darwinism as a Mentally Retarding Virus

 

Who is the God of the Bible?

 

Legendary Biologist Claims Atheism has Nothing to do with Science

 

Why Nature Should Never be Worshipped

 

What ‘Evolutionary Theory’ is Really Good at Explaining: Cancer.

 

Avoiding the Most Deadly Virus of All

 

The Prince of Peace Versus the Prophet of Islam

 

Coronavirus Outbreak Spurs Record Bible Sales

 

More Tales of Woe for Darwinian Junk Science: No Such Thing as Pseudogenes

 

Earth Fine-Tuned for Space Exploration

 

Pious Frauds

 

The CCP Virus

 

By the Rivers of Babylon

 

Progress: US College Board Drops Natural Selection from its AP Biology Exam

 

Abiogenesis & the Tooth Fairy

 

A Whale of an Evolution Tale

 

New UN Report: COVID-19 will Produce Famines of ‘Biblical Proportions’

 

American Schism

 

An Interview with Dr. Frank Turek

 

The S-Blob

 

Post Pandemic Prospects

 

Neanderthal DNA & the Leviticus 18:23 Question

 

Debunking Scientific Materialism through Mathematics

 

Incompetent Experts & Bad Government

 

Intelligent Design Now Thriving in Europe

 

Cosmic Fine-Tuning: an Interview with Christian Cosmologist, Dr. Luke Barnes.

 

God TV Given the Green Light to Broadcast on Mainstream Jewish Cable Networks

 

Ivy League Philosopher Dismisses Evolutionary Psychology as  Pseudoscience

 

Preterism Debunked

 

Ravi Zacharias(1946-2020) RIP

 

Sol Watchin’

 

Ten Things you Need to Know about Scientism

 

Why Humans have Souls

 

Freeman Dyson: God is a Mathematician

 

J.K. Rowling Takes a Stand Against Militant LGBT Activists

 

Humans Together

 

Talking about Racism

 

Lest we Forget: William Wilberforce

 

Update on the Long Term Evolution Experiment(LTEE): Sickening News for Evolutionists

 

An Interview with Mathematician William Dembski

 

Fatherless America

 

A Technical Look at Fine-Tuning in Biological Systems

 

David Pawson(1930-2020) Remembered

 

The Colour of Christian Art

 

Date Setters

 

Punctuated Equilibrium Debunked by Researchers

 

Harari’s Fictions

 

For the Attention of Greta Thunberg

 

Rebels Without A Clue

 

Why We Should Cancel Darwin

 

No Ordinary Star

 

Darwin, Africa & Genocide 

 

What Everyone Should Know About the BLM Movement

 

The Principles that Made America Great:

Part I

Part II

 

The Artifact Hypothesis Debunked

 

How Sweden Dealt with the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

Why the Multiverse is Bunk

 

Why Christians Should Support Israel’s Claim to the West Bank

 

Earth’s Deep Water Cycle Fine-Tuned for Life

 

COVID-19: The Psychological Fallout

 

When Darwinism is Applied to Politics

 

Science Update on COVID-19

 

COVID-19: The Economic Fallout

 

Whale Evolution Further Debunked

 

New ENCODE Results Unveil Still MORE FUNCTIONS in So-Called Junk DNA.

 

Concerning Energy

A Short Commentary on the Christian Standard Bible(CSB).

The Christian Standard Bible(CSB) by Holman.

Preamble

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
For everything was created by him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through him and for him.
 He is before all things,
and by him all things hold together.
He is also the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that he might come to have
first place in everything.
For God was pleased to have
all his fullness dwell in him,
 and through him to reconcile
everything to himself,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace
through his blood, shed on the cross.

                                                                                             Colossians 1:15-20(CSB)

 

At the end of May 2020, I pulled the trigger on a brand-new Bible translation – the Christian Standard Bible – published by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. And owing to the lock-down, I’ve had a chance to read through the majority of the text and would now like to offer my opinions on this fresh, new translation of the Holy Scriptures. If you’re in a hurry, I would heartily recommend this rock-solid translation to you as it offers a unique blend of readability and accuracy that will certainly enrich your walk in the Christian faith. What follows here are some general notes I made of this new translation.They are merely my impressions of the work, so are entirely personal. For more details, please read on.

The Christian Standard Bible(CSB), which was first published in 2017, is a completely updated version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) which was first published back in 2004. Although I have not personally read through the HCSB, I understand that it is a good and well-respected version of the Bible in the English language, but had some peculiarities that are not found in other modern translations. For example, The HCSB used the Hebrew name for God, known as the Tetragrammaton – YHWH or JHVH – articulated to Yahweh, or Jehovah, more often than the more commonly used term, Lord. The CSB, in contrast, uses the word ‘Lord’ throughout the text. If you don’t like this change, best to stick with the older, HCSB, which, I’m reliably informed, will continue to be published by Holman in the coming years.

The second thing that you’ll notice is that the CSB introduces more gender neutral language than the HCSB. This is quite a common move among many modern English Bible translations, where terms like  ‘brethern’ or ‘brothers’ is replaced by ‘brothers and sisters’. That said, the use of such gender neutral terminology is much more subdued in the CSB than in other popular translations such as the NIV 2011 or the NLT. Personally, I don’t mind the inclusion of such changes if it makes the text more friendly and inclusive, but I do understand that its over-use tries too hard to be politically correct and we should never view the Bible in a way that comports with any human-derived political movements. The Bible is just not PC and should always remain above and beyond petty societal concerns.

That said, using the more inclusive phrase, ‘brothers and sisters’ certainly works well in many places when reading through the Biblical narratives but it is noteworthy that the CSB is more respectful in places where this is simply not necessary – unlike the NIV 2011, for example.

Based on the minority texts, the CSB often refers to God as the ‘Lord of Armies,’ which is a legitimate name for the Creator in that one of His attributes as a truly righteous God is wrath(after all, a truly righteous deity must avenge sin). Here the CSB follows the NLT which uses the related attribution of ‘Lord of Heaven’s Armies.’  Technical words like ‘propitiation’ are replaced by more understandable terms like ‘atonement,’ so readers who like to see such age-old terms as these may be a little disappointed with the CSB in that it follows many of the most popular ‘thought for thought’ translations in this regard. Yet, in other ways, it is more traditional. For example, the CSB retains the rather obscure term ‘selah’ throughout the book of Psalms which many modern versions interpret, rightly or wrongly, as ‘interlude.’

The 100-strong team of inter-denominational Bible scholars, linguists, stylists and proofreaders commissioned to work on the CSB project went to great lengths to use the most precise modern language to maximise the intelligibility of the text that is obvious on every page of the translation. As I’ve explained before, Bible translation philosophy falls into two camps; so-called ‘thought for thought’ and ‘word for word.’ The former emphasises the essential thoughts conveyed in the original Hebrew, Aramaic and koine Greek but at the expense of departing somewhat from the precise wording of these foundational texts. The latter philosophy tries very hard to insert an English word corresponding to each Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek word found in the original manuscripts but, as a result, can make the text more wooden or clunky, with the result that the translation can be more difficult to assimilate. What the CSB translation team claim is that they have found a so-called ‘optimal equivalence,’ which they assert, combines the very best of both. And while the same term conveys the impression of being some sort of precisely defined mathematical rule, it’s really just a way of saying that they made a more concerted effort to keep the accuracy as good as possible whilst retaining the overall flow of text.

An example will help illustrate these principles. Consider 2 Samuel 22:23 in three different translations;

“For all His ordinances were before me,
And as for His statutes, I did not depart from them. (NASB)

 

I have followed all his regulations; I have never abandoned his decrees.(NLT)

 

Indeed, I let all his ordinances guide me
and have not disregarded his statutes. (CSB)

 

Notice that the highly accurate NASB uses words like ‘ordinances’ and ‘statutes,’ both of which are retained in the CSB, but are replaced by ‘regulations’ and ‘decrees’ in the less literal NLT. However, in departing from the phrase, ‘ all His ordinances were before me,’ you do seem to lose a sense of the ‘majesty of language’ in the CSB that more literal translations retain. That said, I’ll leave it up to you to judge which translation best conveys the essential thoughts of the original writers!

I found the Book of Psalms to be the most difficult to navigate in the CSB, simply because I have a strong grounding in more traditional Bible versions such as the NASB, KJV and NKJV. Every Bible reader comes to his own personal favourite of the Psalms and it doesn’t come easy when the wording is changed significantly in a new Bible translation. Consider the much loved Psalm 23 in the NKJV and CSB respectively:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:1-4(NKJV)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have what I need.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside quiet waters.
He renews my life;
he leads me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
 Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—they comfort me.

Psalm 23:1-4(CSB)

For me, the poetic virtues of this time-honoured Davidic psalm are somewhat subdued in the CSB rendering, making it less engaging and exciting to read. Yet, if I were a beginning Bible reader, I don’t think I’d have any problem with the CSB translation!

 You see, it’s all down to personal taste!

Did the CSB translation committee achieve their goals? I think so!

I would consider the CSB to be more literal than the NIV but less than the NKJV, more smoothly reading than the ESV, but less so than the NLT.

Now, I would like to say a few words about the particular CSB Bible I purchased and why I absolutely love it!

Consider the two Bibles shown below, both published by Holman; on the left is the NKJV and on the right is the CSB.

The Holman NKJV(left) and the CSB(right).

Both Bibles retail for about £20 UK, have a lovely faux leather cover, with the same simple embossed cross. Both have a good, Smyth-sewn binding, gold-gilded page edges and possess a single satin ribbon marker. But now, have a look at the differences in the paper used and the text.

Both the NKJV(left) and the CSB are line-matched, but the text is slightly larger and has less bleed through in the CSB.

Though the NKJV is a 2013 printing, I think you’ll agree that the CSB has a larger font size and has less ghosting than the former. The paper used on the CSB also seems to be of slightly higher quality than the earlier NKJV edition.  Another great feature of the CSB is its neat thumb indices which make finding the right book of the Bible a lot easier and quicker to access a given book and chapter;

The books of the Bible are easier to access courtesy of these neat thumb indices on the CSB Bible. Check out the gorgeous red satin ribbon marker!

The lovely, large print on the Holman CSB makes the text very easy to read, even without eye glasses, yet is still small and light enough to take along with you anywhere!

I would thoroughly recommend these Holman Bibles(CSB or otherwise) to anyone as they offer exceptional quality for a very reasonable price. No doubt, I’ll be checking out more from their new range in the future!

God bless you all and thanks for reading!

Erratum: I came across one printing error in the CSB, which occurs in Zechariah 2:5( see below) page 1264 of the text. However it is correctly presented in the online text. See here.

The word ”fire’ is misprinted ‘fRre’ in Zechariah 2:5

 

 

Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. If you like his work, please consider supporting him by buying one of his books.

Thank you!

De Fideli.

Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy: Still Going from Strength to Strength!

Celebrating the best of visual astronomical history over four centuries.

 

Well, since its launch in November 2018, my new book, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, has now received 25,000 downloads!

A Big Thank You! to all who have supported my work over the years, despite some personal setbacks. 

Latest review form The Observatory Vol 120 (February 2020) reproduced, with permission, here:

Chronicling The Golden Age of Astronomy consists of a preface, acknowledgements, and a table of contents followed by 41 chapters in roughly historical order, and concludes with an appendix and index. This book contains such a wealth of information there is not enough room in this review to comment on everything in detail.
I shall only cover some of the most significant highlights. There are very few
typographical errors, and even though a multitude of diverse topics are covered
they are presented in a very readable style, the transition from one subject to
another flowing smoothly. It should be on everyone’s shelf and provide many
evenings of education and entertainment.
The preface should be read first because it explains the author’s aims.
The first chapter describes Thomas Harriot, the first British telescopist and
a contemporary of both Galileo and Hans Lippershey. Sadly, Lippershey is
not mentioned anywhere in the text. The idea of the telescope spread quickly
through Europe and many people caught on to the technique of its construction.
History grants credit to Hans Lippershey (of the Netherlands) and Galileo
because they were the first to publish the most detailed description of its
design, and especially Galileo who documented his astronomical observations
in detail. Simon Marius of Germany also constructed a telescope and published
his observations, though after Galileo. Galileo openly condemned Marius.
Apparently Galileo had a caustic personality and was antagonistic to several
high church officials. This no doubt contributed to his being brought to trial.
The story of these early inventors (except for Lippershey) and observers is well
described in the first three chapters. Chapter 5, describing the development of
speculum mirrors, tells of more obscure telescope builders and observers and
deserves a careful read. Chapter 7 covers the extensive observations of Thomas
Jefferson in more detail than many of the large number of biographies published
about him. It does not, however, mention Benjamin Banneker, the first black
American astronomer, whom Jefferson hired to do surveying work.
In Chapter 8, which runs to 39 detailed pages, the author goes extensively
into the Herschel dynasty of William, John, and Caroline in a manner that holds
your attention fast and gives you the impression that you are on the scaffold of
William’s great telescopes. Amazingly this writer learned that William Herschel
met the great scientist James Watt, but Watt’s name is not mentioned in the
index. Chapter 9 describes how the Earl of Rosse at Parsonstown followed
Herschel’s exploits and after several years of struggle was able to construct a
72-inch reflector with two interchangeable mirrors. Speculum tarnishes rather
quickly and has to be re-polished. Two mirrors reduce the downtime of the
instrument. The later invention of silver or aluminium on glass eliminated this
problem. Despite the low reflectivity of speculum the large diameter of the
mirror permitted the spiral structure of nearby galaxies to be identified.The 72-
inch remained the largest telescope in the world for many years and prominent
astronomers of the day like George Biddell Airy, Otto Struve, Sir John Herschel,
James Nasmyth, and William Lassell, among others, visited.
In my 60-year-plus pursuit of astronomical literature I attended many events
and casually met several of the people mentioned in this book. Most of them
grew old and passed into history. One, however, became a friend. I ran across
a classified advertisement in an astronomical publication about some lunar
journals for sale. The advertiser was Tom Cave, manufacturer of Cave Astrola
Telescopes and a well-known lunar and planetary observer. I phoned him and
he invited me to pick them up at his home in Long Beach, California. When I
arrived we started to talk about our mutual interest. I listened to his stories far
into the evening.Tom knew everybody that was anybody in astronomy. I wound
up spending many evenings for the next few years listening to his stories until
shortly before his death in 2003. If I had thought to take a tape recorder his
stories would be priceless. If anyone deserves a biography it is Tom Cave.

The other prominent person in this book I had more than a passing
acquaintance with was John Dobson. Dobson was the father of modern sidewalk
astronomy and the inventor of his namesake the Dobsonian telescope, a design
that made it easy to transport and operate a relatively large amateur instrument,
usually eight to twelve inches aperture or larger. His design could have made
him millions but he never patented it. He was not money-orientated. Several
manufacturers cashed in and produced and sold thousands. They dominate
most star parties today. I met John through Gerard Pardeilian who had spent
many years learning how to grind, polish, and figure telescope mirrors. He
ran the weekly Saturday night star party at the Lawrence Hall of Science in
Berkeley, California. I volunteered during the 1970s to assist operating the
telescopes. Gerard, although like many in the optical industry not professionally
educated, had become a master optician and worked at the prestigious Tinsley
Laboratories and later became a master optician at the Lick Observatory optical
shop in Santa Cruz, California. He helped design and construct a massive
spectrograph for the Mt. Palomar 200-inch telescope. On page 628 it states
that the corner of Broderick and Jackson Streets was Dobson’s favourite locale
in San Francisco. The reason was that the sidewalk astronomers were either
renting or given use of a large house at 1600 Baker St. a few blocks away. They
stored and constructed their telescopes in that building and could easily dollie
them to the corner of Broderick, which undoubtedly was in the shade of a
large building.When John had to move I went over with some other people. He
kindly presented me with several boxes of journals and several surplus eyepieces and prisms. Page 629 states that a light bulb was used to test their telescopes.
Gerard informed me that they actually used the reflection from a street light on
a telephone pole insulator a mile away. It acted just like a point source as a star
would. It was then possible to figure their mirrors on cloudy nights.
A detailed reading of some chapters will demonstrate how expert observers
using relatively small apertures could obtain amazing results, far beyond what
most observers today would think possible.This is one of the finest books on the
history of visual astronomy I have ever read. Virtually every sentence conveys a
bit of history, and it is remarkably illustrated with sharp photographs. I can only
suggest that every reader obtain a copy. The writing is excellent. The 653 pages
of text are too short to contain everything of the rich history of 400 years of
observing. Observers and constructors, such as Jack Marling the filter expert, Al
Nagler of eyepiece fame, Charles F. Capen the Mars observer, comet hunters
like Lewis A. Swift, William Robert Brooks, and John Tebbutt among others,
either glossed over or neglected, should be covered in a following volume.
Continue your story Neil English!

Leonard Matula, The Observatory, Vol. 140 (1274), February, 2020

 

A review by Dr. Guillermo Gonzales( Professional Astronomer) and co-author of Privileged Planet with Jay Richards. Posted with the Permission of TouchStone Magazine.

Stargazers’ Log

Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy: A History of Visual Observing from Harriot to Moore
by Neil English

Springer, 2018
(665 pages, $219.99, hardcover)

Reviewed by Guillermo Gonzalez

When I was asked to review Neil English’s new book on the history of visual telescopic observations, I jumped at the opportunity. Before I became a professional astronomer, I spent many nights (and some days) observing the heavens with my 8-inch f/7 Newtonian reflector in my homemade, backyard, roll-off-roof observatory in the suburbs of Miami, Florida. When I look through the eyepiece of a telescope to observe a planet, the moon, or a deep-space object, I feel I am making an intimate connection with the great observers of years past. And I can share in their joy in reading God’s great book not written with words and freely accessible to all with normal vision.

Unfortunately, Chronicling is far from free. Only a relatively few individuals with a strong interest in science history and telescopic observation will want to hand over $200+ for a copy. I would think that school libraries with a substantial science section are the most likely purchasers.

English is eminently qualified to write this book, having been a regular contributor to the British amateur astronomy magazine Astronomy Now for 25 years. Evidence of this can be glimpsed in some of the book’s 41 chapters, wherein he employs his extensive background knowledge to bring helpful insights to bear on historical questions. For example, in 1611, at a meeting with members of the Collegium Romanum, Galileo had the members look through his telescope. Some claimed they could see nothing through the telescope. English notes that this is likely because Galileo’s telescope had a very narrow field of view and required placing the eye just right to see through it (20).

The chapters in Chronicling are arranged roughly chronologically, but each is self-contained. Each is about an astronomer, a telescope, an important published work, or an astronomical phenomenon. Though together they are an eclectic mix, the emphasis in each chapter is almost always on history, often in the form of a biography. The main exception is the chapter on Walter Scott Houston’s “Deep Sky Wonders.” English also interweaves astrophysical concepts throughout, and he even throws in a few equations. At times, a chapter might resemble a college-level introductory textbook on astronomy.

Still, the book is an easy read and includes many illustrations. English has a gift for presenting history in an engaging way. He makes all sorts of connections between the subject of a given chapter and that person’s contemporaries.

Men of Faith

Why would a reader of Touchstone be interested in this book? I can give several reasons, some of which are obvious. For instance, there’s the “Galileo Affair.” English writes that “the mythologized view of Galileo standing for truth and reason versus religion and superstition of the Roman Catholic Church is not at all accurate” (20). Historians of science know what science popularizers don’t, and English has clearly read the former’s books (which he lists at the end of the chapter). His lengthy chapter on Galileo is an excellent summary of modern scholarship.

Those interested in topics related to science and faith will not be disappointed. From the very first chapter, English does not shy away from discussing the religious beliefs of the telescopists. For instance, Thomas Harriot actually turned his telescope towards the heavens before Galileo did. But how many atheist–narrated TV documentaries on astronomy would also mention that Harriot translated the Lord’s Prayer into the Algonquin language? (8).

In fact, most of the telescopists of the Golden Age of Astronomy were Christians. A number were Jesuit priests, such as Christoph Scheiner (Chapter 1) and Angelo Secchi, the “father of modern astrophysics” (Chapter 22). Several were “clerical astronomers”: William Dawes (Chapter 14), Thomas Webb (Chapter 15), and Theodore Philips (Chapter 30). Of Webb, English writes,

Despite the growing power of scientific naturalism with the later Victorian society, Webb couched everything, with firmness and gentleness, in terms of the Biblical God he believed in. Seen in this light, his astronomical writings, and his devotion to exploring the wonders of Creation with his telescopes, were more like prayers than anything else.

As if it even has to be said (and sadly it does), the evidence is clear that having a strong Christian faith does not hinder a person from being a successful scientist. On the contrary, the great works of many of the telescopists English describes are testimonies to the motivating influence of their faith.

To the believer, this should not come as a surprise. More than other aspects of the Creation, the starry heavens seem to evoke from us a sense of the divine. The Psalmist wrote,

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1–4)

Kepler voiced eloquently what other great astronomers must have believed, that he saw himself as a kind of “priest of God” at the pulpit, reading the “book of nature” as an act of worship, to “think God’s thoughts after Him.”

A Rare Sneak Past the Censors

What did catch me off guard were some of English’s comments on Darwinism. For instance, when commenting on Percival Lowell’s ideas about life on Mars, English writes, “To begin with, scientists were gloriously unaware just how complex even the simplest forms of cellular life were during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. . . . Lowell, like Darwin, thought the cell to be merely composed of blobs of protoplasm” (386). Later, English comments thus on Lowell’s beliefs about life beyond Earth: “Many scientists anticipate that life will be commonplace in the galaxy, but this is based on Darwinian reasoning. However, there are many scientists who now doubt the Darwinian paradigm and do not expect life to be commonplace, as has been widely believed in the past” (397). English is qualified to comment on Darwinism, as he has a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

I agree with English’s stance on Darwinism, but what surprised me was finding his comment in a book published by Springer. The editor must have been asleep at the keyboard! It also is interesting that English lists Hugh Ross’s book, Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home (Baker, 2016), in the sources to the Percival Lowell chapter. He lists another of Ross’s books in the sources to the chapter on Clyde Tombaugh (Chapter 32). We are in a sad state when the censorship of certain scientific ideas in the public square has become so common that we feel we must jump up and cheer when someone boldly sneaks a few “forbidden” thoughts past the censors.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in amateur and professional telescopic astronomy, the history of science, and the relations between science and faith. 

 

British Astronomical Association(BAA) Review by Archivist, John Chuter

 

Cloudy Nights Review

 

Stargazer’s Lounge Review

 

Endorsements:

“This is an excellent book and will complement Ashbrook’s Astronomical Scrapbook and therefore have wide appeal to both amateur and professional astronomers.”
Wayne Orchiston, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Southern Queensland.

 

New Citation here

 

To Be Continued……………………….

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Viking Optical Kestrel 8 x 42 Binocular.

The Viking Optical Kestrel 8 x 42 binocular.

A work begun July 1 2020

Preamble:

** New  Review 5 added below, as well as an expanded conclusion towards the end of the blog.

  Review 1

  Review 2

  Review 3

  Review 4

** Review 5

Specification: 8 x 42

Eye Relief: 17.2mm

Field of View: 8.1 angular degrees (142m@1000m)/

Measured at 8.0 degrees in field tests

ED glass: Yes

Body: High density Polycarbonate, textured rubberised overcoat.

Weight: 692g

Coatings: Fully Multi-Coated

Dielectric Phase Coating: Yes

Dimensions: 12cm x 12cm x 4.5cm

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (1.5m for 3 min)

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Accessories: Padded soft case, high quality lanyard, instruction sheet

Warranty: 10 years

Retail Price: £205 UK

 

The British optics firm, Charles Frank of Glasgow, has been selling and repairing optical instruments for nearly three and a half decades. In 2016, the firm moved south to Halesworth, Suffolk, where they changed their name to Viking Optical. Recently, the company launched an exciting range of affordable roof prism binoculars featuring a number of impressive optical features exhibited in their Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine(all keen eyed raptors) binoculars. Three models are offered in 8 x 32, 8 x 42 and 10 x 42 configurations, and all feature fully multi-coated optics, dielectrically coated and phase corrected BAK 4 prisms and objectives containing ED glass elements in a fully waterproof housing. Although all these models are assembled in China, I reasoned that their acquired knowledge in repairing binoculars over many years would put them in a strong position to offer a quality experience, so I pulled the plug and decided to order up the 8 x 42 Kestrel model for optical testing and evaluation.

First Impressions

The package as received.

The binocular was ordered up from Amazon and the instrument arrived in the evening of the following day. I was immediately impressed with the packaging of the Kestrel. Instead of the regular colour-saturated cardboard box that usually attends many of the binoculars that have passed through these parts, I received a very fetching presentation box with the phrase “Extend Your Horizons” printed on top. After removing an outer slip case, the binocular and accessories were carefully packaged away inside.

The inner box containing the binocular and accessories features an inspiring outdoor scene.

The package contained the binocular inside its soft padded case, a high quality padded neck strap and one page instruction sheet with details of the warranty. The company states that the binocular went through several stages of testing before the instrument was finally packaged up for distribution. Both the ocular and objective lenses came with standard soft rubber caps which can be permanently affixed to the binocular. I was half expecting a lens cleaning cloth but none was provided.

The binocular has a very attractive appearance, with the optics housed inside a strong polycarbonate body overlaid by an anthracite-coloured, texturised rubber armouring. While I have used binoculars with magnesium alloy bodies before, I have not noticed any particular advantage of using metal bodies over their synthetic polymer counterparts, except perhaps to shave off some excess weight. But at 692g, this binocular is not exactly heavy. Indeed, surveying the market in 8 x 42 roof prism binoculars quickly reveals that the weight of the Kestrel falls into the median in the range for instruments of this specification.

The fetching anthracite colour of the binocular is beautifully complemented by the sky blue logo of the company and its ED billing inlaid on the top surface of the instrument. I’m not normally taken much aback by the cosmetic appearance of a binocular but I must admit to really liking the colour scheme of this instrument!

The Viking Kestrel has a rugged anthracite body with the company’s attractive sky blue logo inlaid on the bridge.

The binocular has a single centrally placed hinge that is reassuringly rigid. Once adjusted to get your particular interpupillary distance (IPD) right, it stays in place even when taken out of and placed back inside of its padded case.  Both the focus wheel and right eye dioptre are constructed from metal and coarsely stippled for maximum grip. The twist-up eye cups are of very high quality, rubber over metal that offer 3 positions. With a very generous eye relief of 17.5mm(measured), they afford very comfortable viewing for those who wear eye glasses and those who don’t. Most importantly, when clicked into place they hold their position very solidly, even after an undue amount of pressure is applied.

The underside of the body has two small thumb rests which allow your fingers to naturally gravitate towards when handling in the field. Overall, I found the Kestrel to be very ergonomically designed.

Details of the underside of the Viking Kestrel 8 x 42 binocular.

The focus wheel moves with what I would describe as slow-to-standard progression. There is a little bit of play in it which can sometimes result in over- or under- focusing, especially when imaging a fast moving object, but overall I felt it was perfectly adequate for most purposes one would use a binocular like this for. The wheel moves through 1.5 revolutions from its close focus to beyond infinity. Having a little extra focus travel beyond the infinity setting may not have any immediate advantages, but I’ve found that it is quite important when attempting to clean up the image at the periphery of the field. In other words, having a slightly longer focus travel can help alleviate some of the off-axis Seidel aberrations found on most any binocular image.

The objective lenses on the Kestrel have very nice and evenly applied anti-reflection coatings.

The attractive cyan coloured anti-reflection coatings on the Kestrel ED binocular.

What’s more, they are very deeply recessed – exceptionally so, I’d say. I measured them at a whopping 10mm – significantly deeper than any other binocular I have encountered. This affords exceptional protection against rain, and wind-borne dust and will also attenuate the build up of contrast-robbing dew.

The objectives of the Kestrel are recessed a whopping 10mm or so, helping to keep airborne dust, spray and dew at bay during field use.

All in all, I was well pleased with the ergonomics and physical presentation of the Kestrel, but all of that counts for nought if the optics are not up to scratch.

Mounting the binocular on a tripod is easy to do by unscrewing the stalk at the front end of the bridge, between the two barrels,and which enabled me to test the collimation of the instrument by observing well defined targets on a hillside a few miles distant, looking for both horizontal and vertical asymmetries in the images presented in both optical tube assemblies. To my relief, the Kestrel showed no misalignment issues.

Stray light tests

No roof prism binocular, no matter how well made, can perfectly stave off unwanted reflections, diffraction artifacts and diffused light when a very strong light source is directed inside the instrument Setting up my standard iphone torch light test, I was very impressed with the results I obtained with the Kestrel. I used two controls to compare the views with this instrument; my trusty Barr & Stroud Savannah(which exhibits excellent stray light control and very subdued diffraction spikes) and my superlative Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 pocket glass, which, until now, offered the best results I have recorded in such tests.  Well, the Kestrel served up an exceptionally clean image, with very low unwanted reflections and an almost imperceptible diffraction spike. The result bested the Barr & Stroud binocular and was the equal of the Leica but with a far less obvious diffraction spike! Furthermore, just like my two binocular controls, diffused light was pretty much non existent.

Stray light control instruments: the Viking Kestrel (bottom) with the Barr & Stroud Savannah (top).

Further testing on a sodium street light confirmed the same results; the view through the Kestrel had well nigh perfect results with no annoying internal reflections, zero diffused light and no diffraction spikes! I did however detect rather strong off-axis flaring with the Kestrel, which was more pronounced than in the control binoculars, as evidenced by placing the street light just outside the field stop of the instrument.

The Viking Kestrel (top) tested against the Leica Trinovid BCA (bottom).

Overall, I was very pleased with the outcome of these stray light tests, which suggested that the Kestrel would likely deliver exceptionally punchy images, rich in contrast during normal daylight use.

Daytime testing

My first day of testing took place on an overcast June day. Examining some tree trunks a few tens of yards distant showed a very wide and wonderfully sharp and vibrant image. Compared with my Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42, the colour tone was noticeably more neutral in the Kestrel compared with the very warm yellowish tones in the former. Within its large sweet spot, I judged the image sharpness to be a tad better in the Kestrel than in the Barr & Stroud. Examining the summit of a nearby hill against a bright overcast sky also revealed that the Kestrel was better corrected for chromatic aberration as judged by the absence of a very faint sliver of blue fringing at the boundary between the summit and the background sky. The achromatic Barr & Stroud did show that fringe in the same test.

That said, it soon became clear to me that the Kestrel was showing some lens flare in a portion of the image similar to what I had previously detected in my sodium street lamp test, reducing its contrast in comparison to my control binocular. This flaring could be removed by simply placing my hand over the objectives, blocking off some of the bright light from the sky above it. The flaring was also reduced by observing through an open or closed window under a roof but always reappeared once I re-emerged into the out of doors.

The flaring was only slight though and I suspect that most folk wouldn’t have even noticed it, but once you see it it’s very hard to ignore it, especially since the less expensive Barr & Stroud Savannah did not exhibit such behaviour. Examining the exit pupils showed up a significant amount of light leakage which you can see in the image below:

Some light leakage around the right exit pupil is apparent in this shot.

I decided that I would contact Viking Optical describing the problem I had encountered to see if they were willing to have a technician look at the binocular. So, I fired off an email to them, describing the problem as best I could, and within a few minutes they got back to me asking if I’d be willing to send them the instrument so that they could properly assess its performance. I agreed, so back went the binocular into its case and box for shipping down to Suffolk.

I will continue this review as soon as I receive word on its progress.

A Change of Heart

I spent the afternoon of July 2 2020 comparing and contrasting the views through my Leica Trinovid 8 x 20 with the Kestrel 8 x 42 as well as the Barr & Stroud in bright sunny conditions. I detected the same weak veiling glare in the Leica and the Barr & Stroud  as I did in the Kestrel. Indeed, truth be told, it was more severe in the Leica than in the Kestrel on the same test objects, which I think is caused by its complete lack of any recession of its objective lenses. It was however a little less intense on the Barr & Stroud, but in every case it could be eliminated by shading the objectives with my hand. So I reached the conclusion that it is I who was really at fault. I have come to expect too much and have learned to spot tiny imperfections in optical performance. Furthermore, those light leaks around the Kestrel exit pupil lie outside of where my eyes intercept the image, and so will have little or no effect on the performance of the binocular.

Absolute perfection just cannot be obtained no matter how well made the binocular is. I therefore decided not to bother Viking with my petty complaint and will email them tomorrow morning informing them that I do not wish to pursue this matter, as well as to congratulate them on designing an excellent glass at such a good retail price.

Methinks a large slice of humble pie for tea is in order!

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

An Aside: Veiling glare reported in the Leica Trinovid 8 x 20 binocular

A very bad case of glare in a Swarovski CL Companion 10 x 30

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

Tests on Light Transmission

As I described in numerous previous blogs, the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 is an excellent wide angle binocular, especially for its very modest retail price(£120UK), but I understand that it does not have the brightest dielectric coatings on the roof prisms( they may be either silver or aluminium). I therefore expected the Kestrel to deliver brighter images in low light conditions. So I ventured out at dusk on the overcast evening of July 1st 2020 and began comparing the views in both the Kestrel and the Savannah. Starting at about 10.15pm local time and ending at 10:40pm, I conducted simple A/B tests on some tree branches about 40 yards distant,  evaluating the brightness of the image in the binoculars as the light slowly drained from the landscape. These tests did show that the Kestrel served up the brighter images, as I would expect if they had better coatings, but the difference wasn’t exactly night and day. It was only a little bit brighter at best, becoming most apparent toward the end of the testing than at the beginning.

Investigating Claims that ED Glass Produces Brighter Images

I was also able to conduct more tests to ascertain if the presence of ED glass produces brighter images than an instrument with no ED glass. To make the test as fair as possible, I needed a binocular with good dielectric coatings but without ED glass. So, I borrowed my son’s Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 which I reviewed in an earlier blog. This binocular does have those all important dielectric coatings on the roof prisms and is also fully multi-coated like the Kestrel ED binocular. Because the apertures are different, I made an aperture stop of 32mm diameter from cardboard and placed it over one of the 42mm objectives on the Kestrel as shown below:

The cardboard aperture stop placed over the aperture of the 42mm objective of the Viking Kestrel(lower right). Note the Celestron Trailseeker binocular at the left of the image.

On the same evening of July 1, I compared the images served up with the stopped-down objective on the Kestrel with those garnered by the full-aperture Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32, using the same eye to examine both. Again I performed these tests at dusk, when the test tree branches some 40 yard distant were in deep twilight. The results were quite revealing! Conducting the same A/B testing as before, I concluded that there was very little difference in their perceived brightness. I did however give the nod to the Kestrel though, but only just!

This is the second test of this nature that I have conducted, with both results seeming to indicate that ED glass either does not confer brighter images, or, if it does, it’s marginal at best.

This is at odds with bold claims made by many sources in the online literature and is widely adopted as a marketing stratagem to sell binoculars to the public.

Like I stated before, it’s not so much the ED elements as much as the coatings that distinguish an average binocular from a great one!

Further Notes on Glare, its Causes & its Management

Our long summer days here in Scotland are a godsend, not only because they allow one to observe for longer durations in warm or mild weather but, as I’ve been discovering, they afford many opportunities to conduct experiments with my binoculars. Today proved to be a good day to get to grips with the glare I’ve been observing with my instruments. The afternoon was very bright and sunny but as the afternoon gave way to evening, the skies became very overcast again, so I was able to test out two very different binoculars – the Leica Trinovid and the Viking Kestrel – in these very different conditions. I now believe I have a better understanding of what causes glare in these glasses, and so, by extension, in all binoculars.

The first observation I have made is that glare is actually a lot less problematic during sunny spells than it is during overcast spells. When the Sun is shining in a sky with little cloud cover, the main light source i.e.the Sun, is concentrated in one direction and so long as you are not looking at something very near the Sun, relatively little or no glare is noticed. For example, when glassing tree trunks located at the edge of a strongly shaded copse, with the afternoon Sun illuminating it from the side, glare is very well subdued in both binoculars. This kind of glare manifests itself as a localised crescent or arc at the bottom of the binocular image with much of the rest of the field being largely unaffected. The worst culprit is the little Leica Trinovid, as its objectives have no protection from stray ambient light. The Kestrel does significantly better under the same conditions because its objective lenses are located at the bottom of a 10mm deep ‘well’ which acts as a very effective lens hood, a trick long known to photographers.

But under overcast skies, where strong summer sunlight is diffused by extensive cloud cover, glare becomes much more of a problem in both instruments and seems to be more spread out in the binocular image. Glassing the same tree trunks at the edge of a shaded copse produces noticeably lower contrast images than under sunnier conditions; even when glassing near the Sun. The reason for this must be due to the fact that in the open air, under overcast conditions, with a bright sky overhead, there are many more locations where the light can reflect off the spacers between the objective lens elements at the bottom of the binocular objective, which in turn causes this flaring to spread out or diffuse across the binocular image, reducing contrast in a more noticeable way. This is referred to as veiling glare. So overcast skies appear to produce greater damage to the image because it has a greater potential to affect the entire field than much more localised crescent glare observed in clear sunny conditions. What is more, bigger glasses, which collect more light will show this type of glare well into twilight, whereas in smaller glasses which can’t collect as much light, the same glare can’t be seen!

Consulting a birding forum, I was able to verify this and I also learned that even alpha binoculars suffer from this problem. The poor chap was complaining about glare on his maiden voyage with his fancy new Zeiss Victory FL 8 x 42 and more knowledgeable glassers were able to chime in and offer some detailed explanations and a hefty dose of sympathy for good measure!

Three points to summarise all of this:

  1. The worst effects of glare can be removed by simply shielding the binocular objectives from the offending light source using your hand.
  2. Glare is a fact of life for most any glass, from the most humble to the most advanced. It’s par for the course and we must accept it and move on!
  3. Glassing under the canopy of a forest or in an observing booth with a roof over your head, or even donning a broad-rimmed hat will all but eliminate the worst effects of glare.

Further Notes on using the Viking Kestrel in the Field

Saturday July 3 2020

After a day of heavy rain, the clouds cleared off in the evening, leaving a tranquil blue sky. It was the perfect opportunity to go for a long walk around the picturesque Culcreuch Castle Estate with the Viking Kestrel 8 x 42. The instrument feels very solid in my hands and its fine mechanics work flawlessly. The quality padded neck strap with the company’s fetching colour logo proved very comfortable to use.  I stopped to say hello to a pair of Mute Swans and their family of five cygnets at Culcreuch Pond. The binocular served up beautiful, pin-sharp, views of the pure white plumage of the adults wonderfully contrasted with their rusty orange beaks and jet black foreheads. The cygnets had almost lost their fluffy down feathers by now and had developed their attractive tawny drapery, which stood out well against the sullen waters beneath them. And though the surface of the pond dappled in strong reflected sunlight, the binocular served up flawless images with incredible contrast and no annoying reflections.

Ambling up the path a little further, I enjoyed a fascinating fifteen minute excursion watching a group of Swallows perform their incredible feats of aeronautics (far more advanced than any human made flying machine) swooping and gliding with great speed and agility, gorging on low flying insects along a large grassy lawn immediately in front of the castle. The Kestrel proved to be a magnificent instrument to follow them, with its very large and well corrected field of view. Their prominent forked tails, iridescent blue-black upper body and almost comical, chocolate-brown faces could easily be made out as they flitted across the field of view. A lady out walking her dog, obviously curious about my glassing, stopped to tell me that a few big storms had threatened these migratory birds earlier in the year, reducing the numbers reaching our shores from Africa. It put a big smile on her face to see that it was business as usual for these noisy summer visitors!

These experiences convinced me that the Viking Kestrel 8 x 42 will make an excellent birding binocular with its superb contrast, sharpness and colour correction, not to mention its super-comfortable twist-up eye cups, generous exit pupil size and smooth focusing wheel.  As I continued to walk, I enjoyed glassing the intense colour of mature green leaves drenched with life-giving rains that made them glisten intensely in the early evening sunshine. I almost lost myself observing the intricately textured bark high up in their canopies against a gorgeous blue sky beyond. That said I must also report that there is very mild pincushion distortion at the edge of the field but certainly not enough to cause any alarm.

After sunset I ventured out again to catch a nearly full Moon skirting low in the south-southeast at about 11pm local time. To get a good unobstructed view I had to take a walk about half way up Culcreuch Castle Road. But it was worth it. The almost full Moon in all its glory hovered just above the tree line beyond a gently sloping hill, its low altitude imparting a yellowish cast to its normal pale silver countenance. The image served up in the Kestrel was gorgeous, pin-sharp across almost the entire field, with beautiful contrast and nary a sign of any internal reflections. This will make an awesome Moon glass! As usual, I noted that the Moon remained sharper when glassed horizontally than vertically; again very normal behaviour for a binocular.

Round about a quarter to local midnight, the sky had gotten sufficiently dark to make out the familiar asterism of the Plough high in the northwest. This afforded a perfect opportunity to estimate the size of the field of view. Well, I was able to hold Phecda and Merak in the same binocular field, which I estimated to be 7.9 angular degrees apart, with a tiny sliver of open sky available before it reached the field stop. Thus, I was confident that the ~8.0 degree field I measured was close enough to the quoted 8.1 figure stated in its official specifications. What is more, I glassed the bright orange star, Arcturus, high in the west-southwest, carefully examining the sharpness of the stellar image as it moved from the centre of the field all the way to the field stop. The results were good here too; Arcturus remained nice and pin sharp across most of the field with only the outer 10 per cent showing significant distortion, but there was no ballooning of the star like some inferior models I’ve glassed with in the past. That said, I was still able to play with the focus a little to tidy the image up somewhat at the edge of the field. All in all, I came away convinced that this would make an excellent star gazing glass. I can’t wait to use it later in the summer when truly dark stars return to our shores.

A most impressive performer.

Conclusions

There are good reasons why the 8 x 42 configuration is considered the darling glass for birders, hunters and general nature observers. The extreme comfort with which it meets with your eyes, moderate weight and great low light performance are just a few reasons why they have proven so popular. The Viking Kestrel 8 x 42 is packed full of hi-tech optical features and has very solid mechanics that will ensure it will serve you well for many years. The quality of the image is so good that it will rival those served up by models costing many times more. Indeed, if you’re saving up for a premium glass, I would strongly recommend you try this model first.  It could well be all the binocular you really need!

As you can see from reading the string of reviews posted at the beginning of this blog, the testers were pretty much unanimous in their praise of this extraordinary binocular, and for a retail price of just over £200 UK, I feel it represents exceptional value for money. Indeed, one reviewer thought that the Kestrels were the real winners from the entire Viking Optical range, especially when you consider bang for buck. What’s more, so far as I can tell, the more expensive Peregrine range (retailing for just over £300 UK) are distinguished from the Kestrel only in terms of weight and field of view. The Peregrine tips the scales at 600g, so shaving off about 15 per cent of the weight of the Kestrel, but it also has a smaller field of view (7.0 vs ~ 8.0 degrees). To many enthusiasts, these alterations will probably make little or no difference to their viewing enjoyment, so I would recommend you try the Kestrel before considering the Merlin or Peregrine models from the same company!

It really is a steal!

Viking Optical also has a solid reputation for repairing binoculars and this is yet another reason why it is an especially attractive option for British twitchers, in particular. If something should go wrong with your Viking binocular, you can be confident that their technical staff will repair it if it’s under warranty or, failing that, for a reasonable fee. And that’s very good to know!

The Viking Kestrel 8 x 42.

Highly recommended!

 

 

Neil English is an avid glasser and telescopist who is firmly on the side of the money conscious consumer. If you like his work, please support him by buying one of his books. Thanks for reading!

 

De Fideli.

 

Thoughts on the Pentax Papilio II 8.5 x 21 Binocular.

The Pentax Papilio II 8.5 x 21.

A work began July 9 2020

 

Preamble

Binocular: Pentax Papilio II 8.5 x 21mm

Cost: £85.99 delivered

Optics: Reverse Porro /patented converging objectives for ultra-close focus

Coatings: Fully Multi-coated

Exit Pupil: 2.47mm

Field of View: 6.0 degrees (105m @1000m/ 315ft@1000yards)

Focus Range: 18 inches to infinity

Eye Relief: 15mm

Weight: 295g

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Dimensions: 11.6 x 11.0cm(L/H)

Nitrogen Purging: No

Waterproof: No

Accessories: High quality neck strap, rain guard, carry case, instruction manual and warranty card.

 

In a previous review, I expressed my astonishment at the quality of the views served up by the Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21. Not only did it deliver extraordinary, ultra-close up views of the creation quite unreachable by any conventional binocular, but it also impressed when functioning in its normal way, when imaging objects at a distance. The little Papilio also has a higher power sibling, delivering a power of 8.5x with the same size objective(21mm). In this blog I would like to offer my opinions on how it performs on its own terms but also in comparison to the 6.5x model as well as a very high quality control instrument; the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20, which I reviewed some time ago.

The Pentax Papilio II 8.5 x 21(left) versus the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20(right).

Now, you’ll appreciate that these kinds of tests are hardly ever done by other glassing enthusiasts, partly because it will almost always be assumed that a binocular costing £85 could never compete with a glass retailing for nearly £400. Furthermore, when you are in possession of one of the most elegantly designed pocket glasses in the world, you don’t want to be told that something a lot cheaper could even compete with it. It’s only human nature to take pride in an expensive glass from a world-class optics firm, but this kind of pride, when taken too far, can blind you to greater and more important truths.

Having said that, these two compact binoculars are very different beasts; the little Leica is a roof prism binocular and is optically more complex than the Pentax Papilio II 8.5 x 21, which has a much simpler, reverse porro prism design. And because the latter is simpler, it’s easier to make well, so the rather enormous price differential between the two instruments doesn’t really tell the whole story, as I was to find out.

Let’s first take a few moments to compare the specifications on both the Leica and the 8.5x Papilio II. The Pentax delivers a power of 8.5x with a 21mm aperture objective giving an exit pupil of 2.47mm. The Leica delivers a slightly lower power of 8x with an objective aperture of 20mm and so yields a very similar exit pupil size of 2.50mm. The Leica weighs in at 235g whilst the Papilio tips the scales at 295g, So both can be carried pretty much anywhere with ease, based on weight considerations alone. There is a considerable size difference though, as you can clearly see from the photo below; the Leica is a true pocket-sized glass, capable of being folded up in such a way that it fits easily in the palm of your hand. The Papilio, while still very compact, cannot achieve this level of compactness. So, if storage size is set at an absolute premium, the Leica would be the obvious choice. That said, are there really that many circumstances where the storage size difference really matters that much? I would argue that in most realistic situations, this difference isn’t that important.

When folded down to their smallest size, the Leica Trinovid will fit any pocket while The Papilio(top) can be stashed in a jacket sized pocket.

Stray light and Internal Reflection Tests

Managing stray light inside a binocular is an important parameter in delivering contrast in a binocular image. Thankfully this is easily assessed by aiming the glass at an intense source of bright light like your iphone torch set to its maximum brightness setting and examining the images garnered through the test instrument. As I explained in my review of the lower power 6.5x Papilio II, I was quite impressed with the results I got. There were some internal reflections but they were quite feeble in comparison to many other models I have tested. The Papilio II 8.5x was not as good in comparison. It showed noticeably brighter internal reflections than the 6.5x instrument but the image was still quite clean, with very little diffused light around the light beam and no diffraction spikes. In comparison, the Leica Trinovid 8 x 20 was much better. The internal reflections were much more aggressively suppressed(but still there!) and the image was cleaner and had practically zero diffused light around the light beam. It did however, show a pronounced diffraction spike in comparison to both Papilio binoculars.

Predictably, these internal reflections were also more apparent in the 8.5x Papilio II than in its 6.5x counterpart when pointed at a bright sodium street lamp. That said, I didn’t consider this a serious flaw, as I have tested many binoculars showing considerably worse performance that still delivered good daytime views.I would however expect that the 8.5x model might show up more in the way of internal reflections when pointed at bright astronomical sources like the full Moon.

The difference in performance between the 6.5x and 8.5x in regard to controlling stray light is likely attributed to less rigorous quality control in the manufacture of these binoculars. This is probably par for the course for these low cost instruments. It is wholly realistic to expect significant inter-individual performance differences with these mass produced binos, where one sample delivers excellent stray light suppression and another delivering not so good performance in the same tests.

Veiling Glare Tests

As I explained in much more detail in a previous blog, veiling glare is a phenomenon that manifests itself in all binoculars, no matter how well designed they are. It can be seen when glassing in the open air on an overcast day while imaging a deeply shaded target, such as the edge of a wooded area. The most likely cause of this is due to reflections off the bottom lens spacers between the objective lenses, which manifests as a ‘cloudiness’ that covers much of the field reducing contrast in the binocular image. I tested the two Papilio binoculars as well as the Leica Trinovid in this regard and the results were interesting but not entirely surprising!

Veiling glare is very well suppressed in the Papilio II binoculars owing to the very deep seated location of the objective lenses well behind the anti-reflection coated glass window.

Both Papilios showed considerably less veiling glare compared with the little Leica. Imaging a shaded copse under a bright overcast July sky showed that the little butterfly binoculars were controlling this rather annoying glare much better than the far more expensive Leica glass. The reason for this is probably due to the fact that the Leica objectives are almost completely exposed to the overhead light as they are not recessed as deeply as the Papilios, which house their objective lenses well behind an optically flat glass window and so are much better protected from the ambient light. I found the differences between them to be quite striking, so much so that it could make all the difference between seeing something clearly and not seeing it at all! Thankfully, veiling glare is easy to remove from the image by simply shading the objectives with your hand, but it was interesting to see how differences in design can manifest quite striking differences in performance in this regard.

Daylight Optical Performance 

After adjusting the click-stop dioptre ring under the right eye ocular lens, I began to test the Papilio II 8.5 x 21 on a variety of targets and compared it to the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20. I found this higher power Papilio to a very good optically. The images were clean and sharp and high in contrast. Indeed, they were very similar to those served up by the Leica glass. Looking critically at some tree trunks illuminated by bright sunlight showed that both glasses served up the same amount of fine detail. Contrast was a shade better in the Leica glass. Edge of field correction was also very similar in both glasses too, with both showing very mild pincushion distortion near the field stop. I did however detect slightly more lateral colour in the Papilio II than in the Leica but I felt that it did not detract much from the quality of the image.

However, I found some significant differences in depth of focus when comparing both binoculars though. The Pentax Papilio had a noticeably shallower field depth compared with the Leica and, as a result, renders it that little bit harder to focus accurately. I found myself slightly under or over shooting the focus wheel on the Papilio II before I got the precise focus required while glassing a variety of targets in the open air. This might have been expected knowing that depth of field seems to decrease with increasing binocular magnification, although in this case the difference was small (8.5x for the Papilio and 8.0x for the Leica), so the discrepancies I noted might well be due attributed to differences in design of the binoculars than anything else.

I didn’t think a difference of 0.5x increase on the Papilio II would give a noticeable increase in image scale, but I was wrong about that. This represents a 6 per cent increase in image scale and that’s large enough to notice! What this means is that the 8.5x Papilio II will give you slightly more reach with small or distant targets while glassing under good seeing conditions.

I must also report that my eyes were experiencing more in the way of blackouts in the Papilio II 8.5 x 21 compared with the Leica Trinovid though. I attribute this to my lack of practice centring my eyeball properly inside the large eyepiece cups on the Papilio. In comparison, the smaller eyecups on the Leica make centring that little bit easier to accomplish since I have had far more practice with the latter than the former glass. But I would expect these blackouts to reduce in frequency with more practice. The reader will note however that the eye relief is slightly more generous in the Papilio than on the Leica(15mm in comparison to 14mm, respectively). And since the Papilio II 8.5 x 21 has a smaller field of view than the Leica (6.0 and 6.5 degrees, respectively), it will be easier to image the entire field with it compared with the Leica glass.

Of course, one of the key ways in which the Papilio II 8.5 x 21 trumps the Leica is in close focus. The former, which has a patented converging objective lens design, enables its users to obtain stunning ultra-close views of flowers, insects, rocks, gemstones  etc, which simply cannot be achieved with the cute little Leica glass. Indeed, the close focus of the Leica Trinovid (~3 metres) is rather lacklustre in comparison with other pocket glasses I have used in the past, so if butterfly or insect viewing is your thing, the Papilio IIs will serve you much better.

Low Light Performance

Though such small aperture binoculars have limited use in low light situations, such as those encountered during dusk or dawn, I wanted to establish whether there was much of a difference, if any, between both glasses when imaging the same target under twilight conditions that we encounter here in central Scotland during the middle months of the year.  Venturing out about 10pm in the second week of July, I compared the brightness of the images served up by both the Pentax Papilio II 8.5 x 21 and the Leica Trinovid 8 x 20, by examining tree branches situated about 40 yards distant. My results were very encouraging; both glasses seemed to be delivering equally bright images under these conditions, with the nod going to the Leica. I expected this result owing to the similar exit pupil size of both instruments as well as the application of good anti-reflection coatings to the optical components. This indicated that the Papilio IIs have very good light transmission, which is an important commodity in any binocular.

Some Astronomical Tests

With all the churches shut down, I was able to carry out some tests on both the Pentax Papilio II 8.5 x 21 and the Leica Trinovid 8 x 20 in the wee small hours of Sunday July 12. Starting about 2.20am local time, I ventured out to witness a bright, last quarter Moon rising in the east, and just a few degrees above it and slightly off to the west, fiery red Mars.The sky was not fully dark but still bathed in twilight. Comparing the views in both the Papilio and the Leica, I noticed some very weak internal reflections in the Papilio which were not present in the Leica. Moving the Moon laterally from the centre to the edge, I observed that the Papilio showed some significant darkening  towards the edges but thanks to its aspherical eyepieces, the image of the Moon stayed sharp. In comparison, the Leica showed much less drop off in illumination at the edge of its field.

But things were noticeably different when I repeated the same test in the vertical direction. Again, placing the Moon in the centre of the field, and then gradually moving it to either the top or bottom field stops in both binoculars, the little Leica proved to be the clear winner. The Moon was much more strongly de-focused in the Papilio than in the Leica at the edges of the field. Keeping the Moon at the bottom edge of the field, I could compensate a bit by refocusing the Papilio to make the image of the Moon more presentable, but  alas, ruddy Mars had ballooned in size at the opposite side of the field. In comparison, the Leica image was much more together, indicating that its field of view was flatter overall and better corrected.

In addition, I judged the contrast to be significantly better in the Leica than in the Papilio. Indeed, of all the roof prism binoculars I have tested(with the possible exception of a Swarovski 10 x 42 EL Range), the Leica consistently produces the best contrast when viewing the Moon. Time and time again, the lunar vistas served up by this tiny binocular are quite simply breathtaking and have to be seen to be believed!

So, once again, the Leica pulled ahead in this rather severe test. Leica engineers have designed good field flattening lenses for the Trinovids which guarantee better edge of field correction than that exhibited in many other models. Indeed, truth be told, the Leica has edge of field performance up there with the best roof prism binoculars I have so far tested.

The superbly designed ocular lenses on the Leica have built-in field flatteners that keep the image sharp even at the edge of the field.

Ergonomics

One of the issues some binocular enthusiasts have with the Leica Trinovid 8 x 20 pertains to its small size. It is true that this glass can be quite fiddly to set the correct IPD and exact pupil position when glassing. This is much easier to achieve with the Papilios. That said, since I tend to keep the Leica eyecups in the extended position, it increases its overall physical size and so makes it easier to handle when taking out of and placing it back into its case for storage. The Leica has a very fine focusing wheel but it’s rather on the small side so could prove tricky to operate, especially in winter, when using gloves. The Pentax Papilio II, in comparison, is much easier to handle owing to its larger size which fits my hands better. What’s more, the larger focus wheel is considerably easier to negotiate even with gloves on. Indeed, one of the greatest virtues of the Pentax Papilio binoculars is the large, silky smooth focusing wheel on both models which is essential for bringing objects into focus rapidly from extreme close-up right out to infinity.

The dioptre setting on the Leica is located on the right objective. It cannot be locked in place but does hold its position firmly for many months if not disturbed. Indeed, I have never needed to adjust it since I first acquired the instrument earlier this year. In contrast, the dioptre setting on the Pentax Papilio II is located in a ring under the right ocular. It too can be adjusted by twisting the ring but it has neat little click stops that keep it firmly in place without you ever having to worry about. As I said when reviewing the 6.5x Papilio II, this is a very clever engineering solution applied to great effect on this low-cost binocular!

The Leica glass is better suited to changes in the weather however. Unlike the Papilio IIs, which are neither fog nor water proof, the Leica is filled with dry nitrogen to prevent fogging of the internal optical components in cold weather, which are therefore sealed off from the outside environment. The Leica is splash proof rather than fully waterproof, which means that it can be used in light rain or humid environments without worrying about the build up of internal moisture and, in the long term, fungal infestations. Indeed I have heard of glassers who have used the little Leica in the high humidity of tropical rain forests for weeks and months on end, where they have reported flawless performance from this tiny glass.

Additionally, the Leica binocular has special ‘Aquadura’ coatings applied to the outside lens elements to repel water droplets and dust, as well as dissipating fog accidentally built up on the lenses should the user breathe on the oculars or objectives during cold weather applications. The Papilio IIs do not have these coating technologies.

Another notable difference between both glasses pertains to their ability to be mounted to a tripod. The Leica has no such facility but the Papilio II can easily be mated to such stabilising devices.

Implications

A few weeks experience with both Papilios has proven to be very instructive. Indeed, it has forced me to radically re-think the pocket binoculars I now wish to use going forward. In my opinion, the Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21 is the gem of the pair. While I would rate the 8.5x as good, the 6.5x is excellent! Indeed my tests have convinced me that I could do without my Zeiss Terra 8 x 25 ED. The Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21 has taken its place because it offers me the same comfortable viewing experience, an even wider field of view (7.5 degrees vs 6.8 degrees) and also doubles up as an excellent field microscope when I need it, with its incredible close focus(0.5m). In fact, the entire episode triggered a selling off of a whole string of models I had recently acquired, as I don’t like hoarding equipment. The Zeiss was a very sweet instrument, and everything I have said about it still holds true, but I simply couldn’t justify holding onto two premium models in the pocket size range after my experiences with the Papilio 6.5 x 21. The latter has turned out to be a more versatile than any 8 x 25! The Zeiss went for a good price( it has excellent re-sale value) and to a good home!

My younger son, Douglas, has expressed a particular interest in the 6.5 x Papilio and has been caught hogging it and showing it off to his pals, so I decided to let him have it on the proviso that he look after it properly and I can borrow it from time to time. Now everyone in the family has a pocket or compact binocular!

The Leica Trinovid 8 x 20 has now become my instrument of choice as a general purpose pocket glass for travel and leisure. At first I treated it as somewhat of an ‘expensive toy’ that was more a curiosity than anything else, but after a while that preyed on my conscience. The Leica was designed to be used and used hard in the field. It was not designed to be an ornament or to be pampered inside a glass case.  By using it extensively in the field for hours on end, I have finally come to grips with its small exit pupil and I no longer experience any blackouts with it as I had experienced when I first used it some months back. And though the Trinovid is an expensive piece of kit as pocket glasses go, it will serve me well for decades. How do I know this? Well, check out this recent youtube review from a chap who owned and used a Leitz (the older name for Leica)10 x 25 Trinovid since the 1970s, but who recently treated himself to the newer Leica Ultravid 8 x 20.  If it served him well over all those decades since the 1970s, I figured mine would as well!

The two pocket glasses I ended up with; the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 (left) and the Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21 (right).

OK, time to wrap this blog up.  Thanks for reading!

 

Writers also need to eat, so if you like these reviews please consider making a purchase of one of my books. Thank you!

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21.

The little butterfly binocular; Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21.

June 19 2020

 

Binocular: Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21mm

Cost: £109.00 delivered

Optics: Reverse Porro /patented converging objectives for ultra-close focus

Coatings: Fully Multi-coated

Exit Pupil: 3.23mm

Field of View: 7.5 degrees (132m @1000m/ 323ft@1000yards)

Focus Range: 18 inches to infinity

Eye Relief: 15mm

Weight: 290g

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Dimensions: 11.0 x 11.4cm(W/H)

Nitrogen Purging: No

Waterproof: No

Accessories: High quality neck strap, rain guard, carry case, instruction manual and warranty card.

Life is full of surprises; some good and some bad. I’m happy to report a surprise of the pleasant variety in this review, featuring the Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21 binocular. Though it’s been on the market for several years now, it fell below my radar partly because I became rather fixated with high quality roof prism binoculars and never considered the old classic designs using porro prisms.

Porro prism binoculars are easier to make well in comparison to their roof prism counterparts. They are also considerably less expensive compared with roof prism models of similar quality. To some, their fall from grace in recent years was not due to their inferior optical quality, but more to their larger size and ‘outdated ergonomics.’ That said, they still have a loyal following among those who appreciate fine optics.

In my recent survey of the pocket binocular market, being somewhat dismayed by the lack of credible user reviews,  I went on a shopping spree to test out literally dozens of models – all from the roof prism variety – learning that in general, you get what you pay for. But there is always something new to learn and over the last few weeks I’ve been putting this tiny little binocular through its paces.

And it’s been a revelation!

The name ‘Papilio’ derives from the Latin for butterfly. Pentax were the first company to design these reverse porro binoculars featuring a patented converging objective system that allows these instruments to focus on objects as close as 18 inches – way closer than any roof prism binocular can do. The design was an instant success and thousands of nature enthusiasts snapped them up to provide wonderful stereo-microscope-like views of flowers, leaves, insects  etc. The first generation models had a few shortcomings though, as the literature is awash with reports that the anti-reflection coatings were not up to scratch. Experienced glassers reported bright reflections off the eyepiece field lenses and annoying internal reflections, cutting down on contrast and increasing glare in strongly back-lit scenes. Some resourceful users reported ways of reducing some of these annoying shortcomings however, such as using a broad-rimmed hat to cut out peripheral glare for example, or using them in deeply shaded areas where the contrast-robbing deficiencies in the coatings were less obvious etc. Others just accepted their shortcomings and simply enjoyed them as specialised, close-focus devices to study the complexities of the creation.

But then Pentax brought out a second generation Papilio featuring much improved anti-reflection coatings on all glass surfaces. Called the Papilio II, they are offered in two models; a 6.5 x 21 and an 8.5 x 21. Being the proud owner of a superlative 8 x 20 pocket glass by Leica, I was more interested in the lower power 6.5x model, as it seemed to be the least compromised of the two and would also offer me a larger exit pupil, which is both easier to operate in general use and would prove superior to the 8.5x model in low light situations at dusk or dawn, or on heavily overcast winter days.

First Impressions

The Pentax Papilio II package.

The binocular arrived double-boxed and contained the binocular, a nice faux leather case, a high quality neck strap, a rain guard covering the ocular lenses, operating instructions and a warranty card. A quick examination of the instrument revealed that all was well; the eyepieces could be extended with a click, the focuser worked smoothly, as did the right eye dioptre ring, and the objective lenses housed inside an optically flat glass window were spotless.

To ocular end of the Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21 binocular.

The padded neck strap was a breeze to attach. because it has built-in clips. All one need do is push them through the two holes on the side of the instrument where they are held firmly in place. What a delightful change from threading the strap through tiny little lugs!

The body seems to be made of ABS plastic and covered in a thin layer of texturised rubber which affords excellent grip while manhandling. The double hinges are quite stiff and once the optimal IPD is set, they stay in place. The underside of the binocular has neat little thumb indentations which makes holding it a wee bit easier.

The under side of the Papilio II has thumb indentations for easy handling in the field.

The dioptre ring also served up a pleasant surprise. Instead of rotating smoothly and silently either clockwise or counter-clockwise, this dioptre has click stops that you can hear as you rotate it. At first I was a little concerned that it may not offer the precision of a smoothly rotating right eye dioptre ring, but my wife and I were able to adjust it to accommodate our different settings easily and accurately. Just like some premium roof prism binoculars which have a built-in click stop dioptre, the low cost Papilio II offers the same security against accidental movement. A very clever engineering solution!

The eyecups are plastic and covered in soft rubber. They offer three positions; fully down(for eye glass wearers) or two clicked up positions, affording a maximum eye relief of 15mm. To my relief, I found that they hold their positions very rigidly and work well in field use.

I was also very impressed with the large textured central focus wheel, which moves quickly and very smoothly with no backlash. It has a very large focus travel though, requiring 3 full rotations going from its closest focus at 18 inches right out to infinity. Good focusers are an essential feature of a binocular and I felt Pentax went that extra mile to make sure it worked well.

The objectives are housed behind an optically flat window which also has good anti-reflection coatings applied to it in order to ensure high light transmission and minimise glare. At first I thought the window would be a negative addition, as it might have introduced more unwanted reflections than I bargained for, but as you shall see shortly, I need not have worried!

The optically flat glass window protecting the moving objectives is anti-reflection coated, helping to keep contrast high in the final image.

A straight through look shows the objectives behind the glass window. Note the low reflections off the window itself.

Another really neat feature of this Pentax Papilio II binocular is the in-built thread on its underside that allows it to be mated to a tripod for more exacting work. This is a rare feature on instruments this size but I can think of many situations – both in the great outdoors and in an indoor studio – where it could prove very beneficial. What a super nice touch!

Note the built in tripod-friendly thread on the underside of the binocular.

A quick look through the instrument instantly impressed. The image of a tree trunk some 50 yards distant was bright, tack sharp and very high in contrast. I was also impressed by its wide field of view – 7.5 angular degrees ain’t too shabby! But I was literally blown away when I focused in on a flower bed of Johnson’s Blue Geraniums sat just outside my front door. Wow! The view was quite simply astounding! Placing myself just 2 feet away, the sharpness and colour fidelity of the image was excellent and the level of detail seen within the individual flowers was mesmerising!

Stray Light & Glare Test

But I took heir of myself and proceeded to test the binocular in my usual ways. So first I set up a flashlight test in my living room, by setting my iphone torch setting to its highest(read brightest) level, and standing a few metres back, I aimed the binocular into the intensely bright light beam. Wow! The result was excellent! Compared to a few high quality control instruments (all roofs), the Papilio II showed a few very minor, green coloured internal reflections with no diffraction spikes and no diffused light. Comparing it to my Zeiss Terra 8 x 25 pocket glass, the reflections in the Papilio were only slightly stronger but without any diffraction spikes. Indeed, diffraction spikes are almost a universal feature of roof prism binoculars, however well built, but porro prism instruments seem to be devoid of these. Even the venerable Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 showed an obvious diffraction spike in the same test though its internal reflections were better suppressed than in the Papilio II.

The Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21 has excellent control of stray light, as compared with a top-performing Zeiss pocket glass costing nearly three times more!

Later in the evening, when the sodium street light came on, I once again compared the Papilio II and the Zeiss pocket glass. As expected, the Papilio II delivered excellent results; very subdued reflections and no diffraction spikes. As a glasser who cannot stand excess glare and internal reflections, I was thoroughly delighted with the results I obtained from this low-cost binocular.

So far so very good!

Collimation Test

Collimation checking and right eye dioptre adjustment are best done on a tripod.

By affixing the Papilio II to a tripod, it’s easy to check the collimation of any binocular. Aiming at the hilltops a couple of miles distant, I checked the field of view both horizontally and vertically in both barrels. The results showed very slight horziontal misalignment( as evidenced by a slight asymmetry in the edge of field views) but perfect vertical alignment. I deemed the result quite satisfactory.

A tripod-mounted binocular is also a good way to tweak the right eye dioptre by focusing on the writing on a council notice affixed to a lamp pole some 40 yards in the distance. The dioptre ring clicks as it moves clockwise or anticlockwise making it real easy to get the optimal sharpness in the right barrel when it is locked rigidly in place.

Optical Tests

I conducted my optical tests under a variety of conditions, ranging from bright afternoon daylight in the open air, shaded areas underneath the canopy of trees while walking around in a copse, performance at dusk and finally looking at some bright stars in a twilit June sky around local midnight.

Comparing the performance to my Zeiss Terra 8 x 25 ED, I was very impressed with the optical performance of the Papilio II 6.5 x 21. To my eye, the images of textured tree trunks looked equally sharp in both binoculars, with the Papilio displaying the wider field of view at a smaller image scale. Contrast was excellent in both instruments, which both sport very large sweet spots, and only showing slight softening at the extreme edge of the field. The Papilio features aspherical ocular lenses which keeps off-axis aberrations at bay. In this respect, the Papilio II produced less field curvature(as evidenced by aiming at a telephone pole a few tens of yards distant and moving the pole to the edge of the field) than the Zeiss. Indeed, I pulled out my wife’s Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25 which also sports aspherical ocular lenses and displays superior edge sharpness to the Zeiss Terra, as reported in a previous blog. Well, the Papilio II proved fully the equal of the Opticron pocket glass on the same target!

The Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21( left) and the Opticron Aspheric LE 8x 25 (right).

Under the brightest daylight conditions it is easy to detect reflections off one or more of the ocular lenses as this manifests as a subtle circular glare disc covering much of the field. Alas, these annoying reflections are all too common on a lot of instruments that skimp on their application of anti-reflection coatings. I was very pleased to see that the Papilio II also passed this test with flying colours – that is, it was not present. Chromatic aberration was pretty much non-existent even when pointed at a tough target like a television aerial against a bright overcast sky.

Comparing the Papilio II to my Zeiss 8 x 25 roof prism binocular under the shade of  conifer trees near my home, I found both binoculars to yield up equally bright and sharp images of ground vegetation just a few metres away. When I did the same tests with the Opticron, I felt the Papilio served up slightly brighter images although the sharpness was judged to be more or less the same.

Going out at dusk around 10.15 pm, I compared the brightness of the images of tree branches about 50 yards distant served up by the Pentax Papilio II, the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 and my Leica Trinovid 8 x 20. The Papilio II and the Zeiss pocket glass threw up images that were about equally bright, with the nod going to the Zeiss ( but only just!). Comparing the Trinovid 8 x 20 to the Papilio II in similar tests showed that the images were noticeably brighter in the latter instrument.

The Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 (left) and the Pentax Papilio 6.5 x 21(right).

All in all, these were excellent results showing that the light transmission efficiency of the Papilio was very good indeed based on Zeiss’ published data on the Terra glass, which has 88 per cent transmission. The dimmer images served up by the Trinovid was easily explained in terms of its smaller exit pupil (2.50mm compared with 3.23mm).

My final optical tests were conducted under a twilit night sky ’round about local midnight. I aimed the binocular at the bright summer star, Vega, and compared the views in both the Zeiss and the Papilio II. Both instruments focused Vega down to a crisp, white pinpoint that held its sharpness across nearly all of the field. Moving the instruments horizontally showed better off axis performance than those exhibited by moving the star up and down, to the top and bottom of the field, respectively. The only difference I could detect was the darker sky hinterland in the 8 x 25 Zeiss pocket glass, perhaps owing to its higher magnification.  But even so, the differences weren’t huge.

These tests convinced me that the Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21 has excellent optics, especially for its very modest price tag. Its simpler design to roof prism binoculars means it has less optical components overall, and the combination of aspherical ocular lenses, high quality Bak 4 prisms and fully multi-coated optics all contribute to this high optical field performance.

Further Notes from the Field

Using the reverse porro prism designed Papilio II takes a bit of getting used to. At first, its strange body shape reminded me of a scene from a Star Wars Movie when Luke Skywalker used weird looking binoculars to monitor the movements of marauding Sandmen lol. That said, it’s quite easy to hold steady and most anyone can use it, including kids.

Though it is just as lightweight and portable as a pocket binocular, it doesn’t fold nearly so compactly as a dual hinged pocket glass like the Zeiss Terra 8 x 25, as shown below:

Though it weighs just as little as a light weight pocket binocular like the Zeiss Terra 8 x 25(bottom), it cannot fold up quite so small but will fit in a large coat pocket or a ruck sack.

The Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21 can be used as a decent birding binocular, with its quality optics and fairly large and very well corrected field of view.  Its super-fast focus wheel also helps in this regard. One drawback of its lower magnifying power compared with more conventional glasses (which almost invariably use powers of 7x to 10x) is reduced range. Sometimes you just need 8x or 10x to bring the subject sufficiently close in order to get a good view of it. And 6.5x may not be the best choice for a twitcher, where the subject is heavily camouflaged, small or located at a lengthy distance from the user. For close-range work (read within a couple of hundred yards) it should work well though. Its small aperture will also limit its use to bright daylight conditions most of the time, and thus will be less suitable for work when lighting is compromised, such as at dawn or dusk, in which a larger aperture glass would serve you better.

The instrument is absolutely head and shoulders above any other instrument on the market if your speciality is close-up work, like studying insects, flowers, rocks and minerals. It will also prove indispensable to artists who paint still life scenes indoors, where the instrument can be permanently mounted on a clamp or tripod, where the subject can be examined in exquisite detail under optimal lighting conditions. It also serves as a very effective stereo microscope, affording very comfortable and immersive views of a wide variety of subjects.

I have noted that for such close-up work, the Papilio II 6.5 x 21 seems to provide greater than advertised magnification. When viewing flowers at 18 inches, for example, the power seems closer to 7.5x or 8x and not the advertised 6.5x. This is probably true of the 8.5 x 21 instrument as well, where a power of 10x or more might be expected during these close-range observations.

The binocular is not weather or water proof, which might be a negating factor in choosing it for general purpose viewing or bird watching. In cold weather, it will fog up when brought from the outside to a warm indoor room. I would not recommend using the instrument in rainy or showery conditions. But there are ways to protect it from fogging up internally. For example, by placing the instrument back in its case with the rain guard on prior to bringing it indoors is a good move, as would storing the instrument with an effective desiccant, like silica gel, will help keep moisture at bay and prolong its shelf life, especially if you live in humid climes.

The instrument is not really recommended for astronomical use, though it will serve up very nice news of illuminated cityscapes owing to its good control of stray light within the optical train. That said, it ought to serve up nice images of the Moon and bring some of the brighter deep sky objects into view from a dark, country sky.

I have noted that the optically flat glass window protecting the objective lenses is a magnet for attracting pollen. Not a big deal in the scheme of things, but something to bear in mind. You’ll need a soft lens brush to keep the window clean. I tend to give it a brush down after any prolonged spell(more than 30 minutes or so) outdoors.

The glass window protecting the objective lenses attracts a lot of pollen so will require regular brush down after prolonged field use.

Another niggle reported by some users of the Pentax Papilio II binoculars is that the supplied carry case is too small to comfortably house the instrument when the neck strap is attached. And while removing the strap is one solution, it might not be to the liking of some individuals who wish to use it in the spur of the moment. I have found a solution of sorts, by placing the binocular in the case while feeding the two ends of the strap out from both ends of the case cover. The strong velcro seal is plenty strong enough to hold the binocular in place inside the case and the straps can be used to carry it about!

The neck strap can also double up as carry strap for the case & binocular.

As always, I store the binocular inside its case with a sachet of silica gel and store it in a cool( 60 F), dry and well ventilated pantry to protect against fungal infestation.

Conclusions: The Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21 was a very pleasant surprise. For its modest cost of just over £100, you get very decent classic porro prism optics with unbeatable close-focus capability. I think every binocular enthusiast should own one! Far from being a one-trick-pony, it will serve as a very versatile instrument for casual viewing, nature study and bird watching. Just understand that it can’t be used in rainy conditions and needs protection from internal moisture build up in humid climates requiring extra care when storing for long-lived use.

Highly Recommended!

Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. If you like his work, please consider purchasing one of his books. Thanks for reading!

De Fideli.